Review: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER is a chilling profile of a cold-blooded killer that, 30 years after its historic festival premiere, has lost none of its power to shock. The film, loosely based on a true story, has been hailed as one of the most disturbing and terrifying examinations of mass murderers ever filmed. Henry (Michael Rooker, The Walking Dead) is a psychopathic drifter who has coldly murdered a number of people for no particular reason and without any remorse. Leaving bodies in his wake, Henry makes his way to Chicago, where his he settles into the run-down apartment of his drug-dealing former prison friend and occasional roommate Otis (Tom Towles).

Also moving into the space is Otis’s younger sister Becky (Tracy Arnold), who is fleeing her abusive husband. As she fends off her brother’s incestuous advances, Becky finds herself attracted to Henry – unaware that he, along with Otis, are continuing their murderous rampage.

Based on the true story of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a difficult and unsettling film to watch. Now, in high definition, we watch as a seemingly normal man, the kind you wouldn’t think twice about, proves to be a cold blooded killer and enjoys every second of it. What makes Henry so frightening is that he is your neighbor, your coworker, the man behind you at the grocery store and he really did exist. Forget about the 80’s slasher killers that haunted your dreams, this man haunts your reality.

Director John McNaughton completed the film in 1986, and it was shown at that year’s Chicago International Film Festival. But it wasn’t until 1990 that a U.S. distributor was brave enough to give it a wide release. Henry predates the NC-17 rating and received its predecessor, the X rating, on three separate occasions. As a result of it and related issues with Almodovar’s “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down,” Phillip Kaufman’s “Henry & June” and Peter Greenaway’s “the Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover,” the MPAA created the NC-17 as its replacement on 9/26/1990. Henry’s current rating is “X (Surrendered)” though a renewed rating is pending. The film’s violence, and the clinical, detached portrayal of Henry by the unforgettable Michael Rooker, originally earned it the MPAA’s highly restrictive NC-17 rating.

Special Features include:

“In Defense of Henry: An Appreciation”

“Henry vs MPAA: A Visual History”

“Henry at the BBFC”

“It’s Either You or Them: An Interview with Artist Joe Coleman”

“In The Round: A Conversion with John McNaughton”

“Portrait: The Making of Henry”

Deleted Scenes & Outtakes

Feature Commentary with John McNaughton

Interview with John McNaughton, 1998

Trailer (original)

Trailer (30th anniversary)

Still Gallery


Reversible Sleeve featuring original Joe Coleman artwork

Henry is not the film for everyone. If you are easily upset, the blood and screams will be enough to haunt your thoughts for weeks to come. For those who enjoy something a little different, you may find that Henry is very much that different that you’ve been searching for.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is now available on Digital and Blu-ray from Dark Sky Films

Just a giant nerd in love with horror, 80’s action flicks, Star Wars and Harry Potter. Hit me up on Twitter or Instagram @scarletjupiter to talk horror or just to browse the horror collection.