Portrait in Black

HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER — finally available uncut in the UK — is reviewed here, at Electric Sheep. By me.

Recommended to any fans of TV’s The Walking Dead who may have been asking themselves, “Where did they FIND that guy???” and to anybody who saw MAD DOG AND GLORY and wondered how that director managed to get work. Because he showed startling early promise, it seems. I’m not 100% convinced about HENRY, but is IS an ambitious departure from the kind of cheapjack exploiter the production company was asking for. On the other hand, Victor Erice was asked for a cheap Frankenstein knock-off and he gave them SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. Now that’s ambition.


12 Responses to “Portrait in Black”

  1. Henry is quite an interesting film, dealing with “True Crime” in a mode not unlike that of The Honeymoon Killers. But in a way it’s a kind of cinematic dead end. There’s no way to go from a film like this save a completely different direction. He tried in Mad Dog and Glory but that didn’t really work.

  2. david wingrove Says:

    He also tried WILD THINGS, which REALLY didn’t work!

  3. Oh jeez, like all of those films – and NORMAL LIFE, too! And GIRLS IN PRISON, from a Sam Fuller script, ain’t chopped liver, either.

  4. Hilary Barta Says:

    I recall The Borrower being cheesy low-budge fun.

  5. Yay, Rae Dawn Chong!

    I haven’t seen his Masters of Horror episode, I imagine it could be good if he returned to his roots…

  6. David Boxwell Says:

    The most perfectly realized experiment in challenging cinematic conventions of audience identification with characters. That’s why it’s so affectless and “bleak.” And ultimately horrifying in a way that even the most gory slasher/gross-out flims are not.

  7. I wasn’t sure what the film was up to with the two unsympathetic victims, but I guess it was trying lull us into seeing Henry’s murderous afflictions as in some way forgivable, before it hits us with that whammy of an ending. I’m always dubious about making the victims unsympathetic (as in the odious Hannibal) but it does seem to be part of a cunning game plan here.

  8. Optimum actually released Henry uncut in the UK in the early 2000s, with a feature through the BBFC reordering of the massacre of the family to make it ‘palatable’, though this is Henry’s Blu debut.

    Amazing to think that Michael Rooker was able to parlay the notoriety from this film into a successful Hollywood character actor career, albeit often playing the bad guy (as in Slither, say). I think the best, most knowing use of his previous role is in Philip Noyce’s paralysed cop vs serial killer film The Bone Collector, in which Rooker’s police captain gets heavily implied to be the potential murderer, before being revealed as the film’s red herring.

  9. Sorry, the first paragraph should read:

    “Optimum actually released Henry uncut in the UK in the early 2000s, with a featurette about the BBFC reordering of the massacre of the family to make it ‘palatable’, although this is Henry’s Blu debut”

  10. Rooker has such a great mug, it’d be extraordinary if Hollywood couldn’t find a use for him. He’s the most striking presence in The Walking Dead. Of course, it’d be nice to see him in a non-bad-guy role more often, but what are you going to do?

  11. I first saw HENRY in 1989 in the Varsity Theatre in Honolulu. In which selfsame city I am, right now, typing this.

    I was keen to see it because HENRY had been given enthusiastic support from Roger Elbert. And I didn’t think of it simply as a horror movie – it seemed possessed of such a bleak existential despair that it felt like a crime movie as written by Sartre and Beckett on a hack-work holiday.

    HENRY was released without an MPAA rating, but with advisories and warnings all over the posters and promos. I was surprised to read in Time Out London, back in 1988, that the movie was cut for UK release. And speaking of startling, so was the deleted scene, on the US DVD release extras a decade ago, of Otis and Henry making out on the sofa; Rooker sturdily goes for it, but Tom Towles is, I think, visibly self-conscious. Unfathomable – I’d *pay* to get physical with the beautiful Rooker.
    TMI? Oh well.

    A colleague of mine did observe, years ago, that HENRY is “brilliantly done, but who is the movie *for*, and why would anyone want to make it in the first place?”

    John McNaughton’s second movie was Eric Bogosian’s SEX, DRUGS, ROCK N’ ROLL, which functioned as no more than a filmed record of Bogosian’s brilliant self-penned show, and was none the worse for that.

  12. “Who is HENRY for?” is a fair question. Not sadists, I think, as it never lingers on anything long enough to be pornographic. It has some affinity with “endurance test cinema” where audience members award themselves points for making it all the way through, but that doesn’t quite nail it either. I think McNaughton’s own explanation, which starts from the opposite end, method rather than goal, is more useful — setting out to disturb, using realism as a tool. So the audience, I guess, is anyone who wants to be disturbed.

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