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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a fictionalized, and harrowing vérité portrayal of real life serial Henry Lee Lucas. This is a movie that will stick with you and make you feel dirty. We’ve been sitting on this review for a while, but are excited that it is finally seeing the light. We recorded it back in September of 2019 to be a backup episode when we needed to take a week off. Turn’s out, we rarely take a week off.
Henry played by Michael Rooker, is serial killer constantly on the move, but is momentarily staying with his former cell mate Otis (Tom Towles). Also living with them is Otis’ out of state sister Becky (Tracy Arnold). She flys in to escape her abusive boyfriend and to try to find work to bring her daughter down to live with her.
The drama in the film is in the interaction between these three characters. The trio is a powder keg trauma, sociopathy, and victimhood. However, as the title of the film suggests suggests, the main purpose of the plot is to paint a stark and unflinching portrait of Henry as a serial killer.
Review of Henry
This is one of those films that feels a little too real. Even though it is definitely a narrative driven Hollywood film, it shows the realities of killing in such plain detail that it almost feels like a documentary.
When I told David about this movie I described it as “Taxi Driver, but without the touchy feely parts”.
You are thrust into a world of people that are deeply broken and are dangerous to each other and themselves.
It feels like a snuff film, mainly because within it, is a snuff film.
Henry reminds me of a couple of my favorite movies in terms of subject matter and tone. First is David Fincher’s Seven, and even more so, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. It’s a film that sticks with you and makes you feel dirty just watching it. This is because unlike most narrative driven Hollywood movies, this one has no glamour or spin. It is full of dread and terror even in scenes that on the surface are innocuous.
It is undeniably a great film, just from the fact that I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it and it deeply affected me.
Expand for Spoilers
The film opens strong with flashes of hyper-realistic crime scenes with brutally murdered corpses. This communicates one thing: buckle up.
It feels very real early on. There is no veneer on this film. Compare this to another serial killer movie made the same year: Manhunter. Manhunter is highly stylized and a romanticized, fetishized portrayal of serial killers, Henry feels like a documentary in comparison.
This feels like it’s the first movie of it’s type, and probably the greatest because of it’s commitment.
The character of Henry is loosely based upon the real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. As in the film, Lucas was acquainted with a fellow convict named Ottis Toole (although in the film, the character’s name is only given as Otis). Additionally, Lucas became the lover of Toole’s eleven-year-old niece, Frieda Powell, who lived with Lucas and Toole for a while, and often went under the pseudonym of “Becky” (although in the film, Becky is Otis’ sister, rather than his niece, and is considerably older than Powell was).
Also as in the film, Lucas ultimately killed Becky. Furthermore, like the fictional Henry, the real Henry’s mother worked as a prostitute from her house, often forcing him to watch her while she had sex, and occasionally making him wear a dress. The real Henry’s father had also lost both his legs in an accident, prior to which he had been a truck driver, just like the fictional character. However, the actions of the fictional Henry are inspired not by Lucas’ real crimes, but by his fabricated ones.
In prison, Lucas confessed to over six hundred murders, claiming he committed roughly one murder a week from 1975 to 1983. Ultimately, however, the vast majority of these claims turned out to be false, while many of the rest could not be substantiated.
Lucas was simply confessing to every unsolved murder brought before him, because doing so ensured better conditions for him, as law enforcement officers would offer him incentives to “confess”. Such confessions also increased his fame with the public. In the end, Lucas was convicted of eleven murders, and sentenced to death for the murder of Frieda Powell, although his death sentence was later commuted to life in prison by the then Governor of Texas George W. Bush.
The characters in this film is a group of completely broken people. Henry and Otis are raised in abuse and become predators, and Becky turns into an ideal victim. She has a real casual attitude about getting abused and sexually assaulted.
Henry describes his MO as killing in a different way each time and moving on, which is probably how most serial killers get away with it in real life.
Henry and Otis go and murder a family and film it. This is the realest scene of murder I have ever seen on film.
Henry Ending Explained
Henry goes on the hunt, but doesn’t kill anyone, when he returns Otis is raping Becky. After killing Otis. Henry escapes with Becky. The whole time you wonder what’s going to happen with Becky, until inevitably he kills her.
Despite the close connection that Henry seems to have with Becky, he can’t help himself. The film is really great at showing how unfeeling killers are towards their victims. And that’s why it feels so real, because they don’t make Henry “crazy”, he’s just a pure predator.
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