Posted by: kfugrip | February 27, 2008

Portraiture

When I was first becoming interested in film that wasn’t typical Hollywood fare I started from two separate approaches. The first was David Lynch films, which is a self-explanatory methodology. The second was to watch interesting, independent, horror films. I didn’t do much of this before I changed my approach by watching movies from the Sundance Film Festival and adding Martin Scorsese to David Lynch for director’s filmography studies. Many times before I moved on I would pick up Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, directed by John McNaughton, and walk around my local video store, eventually picking up another movie and putting Henry down. I wish that just one time I didn’t do that.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of the most self-evident titles in the history of film and loosely based on the life of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole. Henry (Michael Ro0ker) has recently been released from prison for the murder of his prostitute mother. He lives with Otis (Tom Towles) another ex-con who sells drugs and works at a gas station. Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) arrives and begins to fall for Henry while Henry begins teaching Otis how to kill.

What I liked: The structure and style of this movie is what appealed to me most. The opening is a scene of Henry at a diner, eating, ordering cigarettes and leaving, cut with images of women he has killed. I liked the juxtaposition. The interactions between Henry, Otis and Becky are tense and feel like honest depictions of damaged people. While the film was shot in a typical manner there were a few places for beautiful composition and they were usually associated with murder and violence.

Having a film that is almost entirely from the killer’s point of view, and not have the police trying to find him or the victim’s running away, is a brave bit of filmmaking. A film like this would never be made in Hollywood today and only through independent means could something like this be financed. There is nobody to like in the film, unless you like damaged women who are drawn to evil men, however you find yourself empathizing more with Henry than you would like. He is a murderer. But when juxtaposed with Otis he seems like the good guy. Much of that has to do with Michael Rooker‘s performance, which is pretty good and the best in the film.

What I didn’t like: This film is a few poor performances away from being a 5 star horror movie. Many of the bit players are bad actors and take me out of the movie. The good news is that they are killed in moments. Tom Towles is barely passable in his best scenes and Tracy Arnold is bad, though she has a good scream. The music is sometimes too much of an indicator and noticeable. That is a problem but it wasn’t true of every use of music. Some of it blended well with the action.

4 stars

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Responses

  1. Suzanna and I watched a horror film last night in our childbirth education class, “Baby’s First C-Section”.

    I give it high marks for drama, a palpable sense of tension and anticipation and amazing effects. The doctor character might have over played it when he had the baby extended from the mother, held by the feet and rocking the baby to remove it’s head from the mother’s womb though.

  2. Meh. It’s been a while, but I remember this film being a huge let-down.

  3. mike: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

  4. Its cool Kelly. Theres no chance that could have been real. They shook the shit out of that baby.

    The one true highlight of the birth class was watching a video on natural, vaginal childbirth and with the baby about halfway out the doctor says,”Looks like weve got a baby…,” and before he can finish the sentance the mother says while looking down at the baby 3/4 of the way out of the birth canal,”It doesnt look like one!”.

    You cant write that stuff.

  5. Isn’t this a movie review site? What the fuck.

    Tell me, ‘Dude’, will you be reviewing the piece of monkey dung that is, “Semi-Pro”?


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