Directed By: John McNaughton
Starring: Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, Tom Towles
Tag line: "Yeah, I Killed My Mama..."
Trivia: At the time he auditioned for the lead in this film, Michael Rooker was working as a janitor
Henry Lee Lucas was, at one time, considered the most prolific serial killer in American history. Convicted of murdering eleven people over the course of several decades, Lucas actually confessed to hundreds of killings, many of which the authorities could never connect back to him. His first known victim, for whom he served 10 years in prison, was his alcoholic mother, a prostitute who allegedly made her young son watch as she had sex with dozens of men. His is a truly terrifying story, and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a 1986 film based loosely on the life and killings of Henry Lee Lucas, matches that terror bloody step by bloody step.
Released on parole for the murder of his mother, Henry (Rooker) is now living in Chicago, where he shares an apartment with his friend and former prison cellmate, Otis (Tom Towles). By all accounts, Henry is just a regular guy, but his casual behavior masks a dark secret; Henry is a serial killer, one who picks his victims entirely at random. Before long, he's teamed up with Otis, teaching him the finer points of murder, including how to get away with it (“if”, Henry explains to Otis, “you strangle one, stab another, and one you cut up, and one you don't, then the police don't know what to do”). What complicates the situation is the arrival of Otis' kid sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), who moves in with the two on a temporary basis. Becky takes an instant liking to Henry, and Henry, in turn, goes out of his way to make Becky feel at home, knowing all the while he may, at some point, have to kill her to protect his secret.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a nerve-wracking film, made all the more so by the low-key performance of Michael Rooker, who has the look, the demeanor, the very presence of an everyman. In the film's first scene, Henry is sitting in a restaurant, finishing up a meal. He compliments the waitress' smile as he pays his bill, walks out the door, then hops into his car and drives off. We follow along with Henry on his drive, during which we're also treated to a montage of grisly images; a woman (Mary Demas), naked and bloody, lying dead in the middle of a forest, a husband (Ted Kaden) and wife (Elizabeth Kaden) murdered in their place of business, and another nude young lady (Denise Sullivan) whose corpse is floating face-down in a shallow creek. We have only just met Henry, yet his connection to these killings is obvious, and when, in the next scene, he stalks a woman (Monica Anne O'Malley) to see where she lives, we know full well the fate that awaits her. As played by Rooker, Henry is the worst kind of monster, a murderer who blends seamlessly into the background at diners and coffee shops, all the while sizing you up for the kill.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is the frightening tale of a murderer you never see coming. It is a film that will get into your head, under your skin, and have you looking over your shoulder from time to time to make sure nobody's following. With a magnificent turn by Michael Rooker and a gritty, documentary-like flavor, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer has earned a place among the elite of the horror genre.