Monday, October 27, 2014

Film Review: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (Review)
United States/1990
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...more of an outline of the portrait..."

The brutal murder spree of Henry (Michael Rooker) and his prison buddy Otis (Tom Towles) in Chicago.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer follows the titular character as, well, he kills. It also follows his roommate Otis, who also kills and sells drugs, and Otis' sister Becky, a troubled woman looking to fix her life. The plot is fairly simple, though. It begins in the middle of Henry's killing spree, eventually Otis, who is controlled like a dog by Henry, joins, and Becky works and chats with Henry. It's brutal and savage at times, and paints a somewhat accurate portrait of a serial killer – well, at least the brutal violence is caught accurately. The ending of the film is good, though.

The film is very effective. As simple as it may sound – because it is – it is incredibly effective. The violence is graphic and unforgettable. There are many visuals of death. The visuals of the aftermath were the most impacting, in my opinion. The film has scenes, especially during the beginning, of the dead bodies and these are very graphic. Scenes of strangulation and stabbings, as well burns and dismemberment – truly some shocking stuff. And, it's covered in an ominous and tense atmosphere, with some great suspense here and there. The cold-hearted characters are equally effective, too. Henry and Otis are brutal savages, they laugh and have fun during their murders, which makes them really evil. Their conversations are equally tense, too.

However, the simplicity is also a negative for the film. This is supposed to be a portrait of a serial killer. At least, that's what I would think it would be – and rightfully so, considering the title. But, it ends up being more of an outline of the portrait – it's not filled in, the details are missing. We get a little information on Henry's background, but not enough to really know him. It doesn't make the film bad – not at all – but it makes the film less effective. More importantly, it makes the film's violence feel more gratuitous.

The acting is great. Michael Rooker is really strong as the lead; he has the twisted charisma and charm for the role. Tom Towles is decent. Towles is great when he's being a psychopath, which is most of the performance, but he's mediocre otherwise. The film looks decent, nothing special when it comes to the cinematography. The music is great, though – a soundtrack straight from the 1980s. The makeup is also great, it really helped create more effective and graphic violence. Director John McNaughton delivers a graphic and unforgettable serial killer experience; it does lack some important character, but it is ultimately a film that is difficult to forget – and rightfully so.

Overall, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is great film. It's definitely not a film for everyone, even for people who love serial killer films. For example, a film like Memories of Murder focuses on the investigation and mystery, and it succeeds. A film like The Chaser focuses on the breathtaking thrills, and it succeeds. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer focuses on the violence and murder, and, well, it succeeds. A film that is dominated mostly by violence is not as effective or attractive as the two former, but it ends up working. If you can tolerate the violence and if you're an open-minded fan of the genre, this is for you.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and blood, including gore, nudity and sex.

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