Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
October 27, 2022 8:18 AM - Subscribe

Henry (Michael Rooker) is released from prison following his mother's murder. He supplements his job as an exterminator with a series of indiscriminate and violent murders. Fellow jailbird and drug dealer Otis (Tom Towles) becomes a willing accomplice in Henry's bloody killings. But as the depravity escalates and Henry forms a bond with Otis' sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), things start to get out of hand. The film is based on the true-life story of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.

Directed by John McNaughton (Wild Things, Mad Dog and Glory). Written by Richard Fire, John McNaughton.

89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming on more services than it makes sense to list. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is the only serious serial killer movie I ever need to see. It's riveting and bleak, because it presents Henry living his life in a way that makes sense to him, and contains recognizable human emotions in places, even as he is psychopathic to the point of seeming alien.

His mentorship of Otis in the ways of killing is a brilliant device, as it gives the movie a chance to pick at how Henry operates and why.

His scene with Otis where he explains that using the same MO will get you caught, so he mixes it up, and cops never realize he is there is chilling.

This movie pulls off the extremely delicate trick of having a serial killer as the protagonist and letting us inside his world, even as it absolutely never forgives him for or celebrates anything he does.

I generally do not watch serial killer stuff, but this is a pretty remarkable film.

There's a sequel that should not exist for such a wide variety of reasons that I cannot imagine why a person would want to see it, let alone how it got made.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:23 AM on October 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

One of those movies I saw way back in the 90s on video and I don’t ever need to watch it again.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:00 PM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

This was the movie responsible for NC-17, wasn't it?
posted by praemunire at 12:23 PM on October 27, 2022

This movie was a wild revelation when I saw it in the early-mid 90s - Rooker is haunting in his operation as a barely-human entity sliding through society, and is so indelibly linked with this role that I'm still filled with cognitive dissonance when seeing him in Guardians of the Galaxy or the like.

Also, this was the first film I saw where I recognized the source of a sample used in a song - Pigface in specific has the "I could kill somebody" exchange on the 'Truth Will Out' live album. Hearing that dialog in the original context was doubly intense - both the unnerving psychopathy of the scene and the wild deja vu of having known how the rest of the conversation would play out without ever seeing the film before.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:40 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

This was the movie responsible for NC-17, wasn't it?

One of them. (At first I thought that it was Henry and June, given that sex is always considered worse than violence in the media. Henry the erotica writer WAS the first movie to actually receive the NC-17 rating, but Henry the serial killer was the initial inspiration.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:54 PM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

There's an episode of Last Drive In with JBB on Shudder that covers this movie. It's a brutal film and I mean that as a complement.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:47 PM on October 27, 2022

This is a great film. But I actually found that the sequel is...interesting? I want to stress that it isn't half the movie its predecessor is, but I'm not sorry I saw it. It feels more like a film set in the same kind of milieu than a real sequel; none of the original cast is there, it's a different director, and the events of the the first movie are referred to only obliquely, if at all. Only Henry recurs, and this Henry doesn't seem much like the one we know. The sequel takes on some pretty bleak stuff about what it's like to be a marginalized, borderline homeless person in America, and I think it's trying to show us the circumstances that could create and facilitate a person like Henry. It's not 100% successful, but it's trying to be more than just a cheap cash-in, in my opinion.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:12 PM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

This and "In Cold Blood" are the movies that got me interested in true crime stories. "In Cold Blood" because it's the originator, and "Henry" because the stories of his and Ottis' lives are so...baroque. Drifters, hapless cops, unreliable-everything, dropping out of elementary school, maybe he didn't do the murders...and that's just Henry.
posted by rhizome at 1:05 PM on October 28, 2022

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