Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer; Crime thriller, USA, 1986; D: John McNaughton, S: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold, Mary Demas

After serving the sentence for killing his abusive mother, a prostitute who forced him to watch how she slept with men, Henry finds a place to stay at Otis, who is also on parole. However, working as an exterminator, Henry has access to numerous homes and thus starts killing again. Becky, Otis' sister who was also abused, by her father, actually has feelings for him. The two men kill, steal and record the murders on tape. When Otis tries to rape Becky, Henry kills him. They run away, but he kills her too.

John McNaughton's feature length debut film, based on a real life murderer, "Henry - Portrait of a Serial Killer" is one of the most disturbing movies of the 80s, yet its unglamourous depiction of human violence, similarly like "A Clockwork Orange", assured it cult status. What it lacks in budget, this independent movie compensates with a gripping and shocking story as well as the enthusiasm of the young authors, equipped with a depressive message: at first, Henry killed his abusive mother, a prostitute, to protect himself from further abuse. Then he killed ordinary prostitutes, because they just reminded him of his object of disgust. Then he killed for pure convenience, namely to steal a TV or get money. Finally, he started killing out of pure boredom. Obviously, the point is that once people get infected with evil, even if it was in self-defence, they can not stop anymore. Even though Becky shows empathy towards him, since she was also abused by her parent, love is unable to change the antagonist, which just exacerbates the message. In arguably the most shocking scene, which borders on being unbearable, a video camera on the ground records how accomplice Otis and Henry torture and kill a family in their home. With a running time of only 80 minutes, "Henry" does feel somehow incomplete, yet it is a bitter vision of lost humanity.


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