Thursday, June 2, 2011

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

"If you shoot someone in the head with a .44 caliber every time you kill somebody, it becomes like a fingerprint, you see?"

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is allegedly one of the most violent and disturbing slasher movies out there. Forty-five minutes in, I was "pshaw"-ing this claim. Sure, there was some blood, but nothing that could freak me out enough to make me have to check twice that all the doors are locked. But, to my surprise (and gratification), the last half of this movie packs quite a harrowing punch.
The film is loosely based around the life of Henry Lee Lucas, one of America's most prolific serial killers. He committed gruesome murders across the country with his partner-in-crime, Ottis Toole. Lucas is realized on screen by actor Michael Rooker, and looks like the deranged lovechild of Heath Ledger, Albert Brooks, and Lenny from Of Mice and Men. And I will say, this combination is truly creepy. His bucktoothed yokel friend Otis (the filmmakers omitted the extra "t," probably for legal reasons) is frightening as well, if not only due to how incredibly stupid and impressionable he is.
If any of you have read most of my posts, you may remember that I reviewed Badlands, another film about a killer. Although director John McNaughton is no Malick, I'd watch Henry over Badlands any day. To make a movie about a serial killer, I feel like you just have to have that badass gene. The gene that allows you to put anything on screen, no matter how disturbing or controversial.
One thing I love about this film is that it delves deeply into the pathology behind Henry's killings. Not only do we hear him describe his methods and reasonings to a friend, but we also learn of his traumatic childhood, and how it lead him to becoming a murderer. This film captures a very realistic image of a serial killer; most importantly, introversion and the habituation of the murders. I do wish, however, that the film would have explored Henry's homosexual side a bit more. Instead, it portrayed Henry as almost asexual, or at the least very uncomfortable in a sexual situation.
I think what makes this film so shocking, and what sparked so much debate over its rating by the MPAA, is not the degree of the violence per se, but its unrelenting realism. With the exception of one or two brief moments, the bloodshed that occurs on screen looks completely authentic, and is unencumbered by quick cuts, digital special effects or dramatic music.
This movie, however, is definitely not for everyone. There is explicit rape, sexual assault, and gruesome violence. However, this film shows death and murder as it is, in a very raw and intimate way, which makes the murders doubly chilling.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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