Friday, November 19, 2010

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Director: John McNaughton

Starring: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

More info: IMDb

Plot: Henry likes to kill people, in different ways each time. Henry shares an apartment with Otis. When Otis' sister comes to stay, we see both sides of Henry; the "guy-next-door" and the serial killer.

My rating: 10/10

Will I watch it again? Well, I've now seen it 3 times in the past 2 years.

This is my absolute favorite serial killer flick. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), ZODIAC (2007) and SEVEN (1995) are close runners-up but HENRY is the most brutal, honest and realistic of the lot. It's unflinching in its presentation. The opening shot of the dumped body sets the tone for the rest of the film and it ain't pretty. Rooker's performance as the titular character is nearly as iconic as Perkins in PSYCHO (1960). Hell, the actors across the board nail it. They're all just raw enough to feel real.

Robert McNaughton's score is as cold as Henry. Outstanding. The out of tune piano is genius. It's got that Carter Burwell vibe from BLOOD SIMPLE (1984). There are plenty of murders but you see nearly all of them after the fact. For the most part we're just looking at a slow moving camera around the bodies. But it's what the director does that makes them horrific. As the camera closes in on the body we hear the final moments of her life filled with screams of absolute terror and struggle. It's more effective than any visual kill I've seen. Terrifying.

The casting is perfect. Rooker IS Henry. He has two modes: calm and rage. He's got it down better than DEXTER. From the first few minutes of the film you know exactly what he's capable of so when Otis, in confidence, tells his sister, Becky, that Henry killed his mama and then the very next scene has her asking Henry if it's true, you don't know what he's going to do - he could kill her in a fit of rage. How he handles that scene is pure skill and talent.

Tom Towles hits all the right notes, too, as Henry's dim-witted roommate. He's got some serious issues but, unlike Henry, he's more rambunctious with them. Otis is the kind of person who just needs a little guidance to really make him a dangerous man, one that should be removed from society and Henry's just the guy to teach him. Towles is creepy as hell but, as the character dictates, lacks the intensity and patience to successfully become what Henry is.

Tracy Arnold as Becky, Otis's sister, rounds out the trio and she holds her own. Think Jennifer Jason Leigh from THE HITCHER (1986) but better and, more importantly, real. She's run away from her lousy husband leaving her baby with her mother. She moves in with Otis and Henry and falls for the sweet and troubled Henry. Arnold's performance is so real that you'd swear you met her in a bar before. I'm stunned that she only has three film credits, this being her first. She should've been in THE HITCHER.

There are sooooo many great set-pieces in this flick - too many to mention (or spoil). But there are two worth noting. The first is where Henry and Otis acquire the camcorder. The seedy stolen goods dealer (great fucking performance by Ray Atherton. Who's he? You may recognize his name as the producer of MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE (1977) or F.A.R.T.: THE MOVIE (1991) - HENRY is his only credit as actor, sadly) meets his end at the hands of these two in a darkly funny scene. It's another one of those, "Oh, SHIT!" moments and there's plenty in this flick.

"What's the matter? You got shit in your ears?"

It's ON now!

The other is a home invasion video taped on their new toy. No music, just what was recorded on tape. It's absolutely harrowing and when the camera slowly moves away from the TV set to reveal the pair watching on the couch, it's even more so.

HENRY is a kick in the guts, the kind that keeps you down on the ground and stays with you which is partly why I love this flick so much. It's a perfect storm with every aspect of film making at its best, culminating in something truly special. I first caught this on VHS back in the 80s and it's still as potent as it was then. It's one of those flicks that doesn't diminish with each viewing or with age. It's just powerful today as it was nearly 25 years ago. I was still in high school then, I've seen thousands of movies since and very little can stand up to the brilliance and raw horror of HENRY.

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