Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

A man drives his car, from where (to where) is not clear.  Every once in a while we flash to a shot of a dead woman, obviously murdered, her body dumped somewhere or just left where she died.

In the first minute of Henry, we see four dead bodies.  The soundtrack switches to the the sounds of struggle that took place before the women were killed.  A perfect way to set the tone for this bleak and uncompromising portrayal of a psychopath.

Henry is really the ultimate serial killer film.  Movies that came after- Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Saw, American Psycho- were fine films, but they missed the point or didn't even try.  Silence is a great movie, but Hannibal Lecter is not a psychopath.  Seven is also a great thriller but it's less a movie about a psychopath than it is a movie about police tracking down (or really, failing to track down) a serial killer.  Saw is just sadism and special effects.  American Psycho is fantastic and it's obvious that everyone involved did their research, but the movie is exaggerated to make a point and is thus more a comedy than it is any kind of serious look at psychopaths.

Henry, on the other hand, is a really masterful "slice of life" look at a day in the life of a psychopath.  Henry is not your typical movie psychopath.  He's not an evil genius like Hannibal Lecter.  He's not a sanctimonious, moralizing character with no depth whatsoever, like the Saw guy.  He's polite and charming, but he's not well-educated (in fact, he is illiterate).  He doesn't revel in his killing, he just does what he thinks he needs to do and does it.

Performances are really phenominal all around.  Michael Rooker's portrayal of Henry is simply amazing.  Every time he talks you just sit there mesmerized.  When he talks about his childhood at one point, you can't help but get chills.  And there is a twist to that discussion too, if you pay attention.

It's a refreshing take on the concept now, never mind back in 1986.  Surprisingly, there isn't even any kind of subplot involving cops on the case.  Henry's murders never even come up on TV or in the news in the movie.  At one point he and his "friend" Otis kill a couple of prostitues and while Otis is worried about what will happen, Henry assures him that there is nothing to worry about, because nothing will happen.

It's a deceptively clever movie.  Rather than just striging together a bunch of murders and calling it a day, everything build up intelligently.  There are two scenes in particular that just blow me away.  The first is a scene where Henry and Otis go to buy a television on the black market, and the end up killing the totally unlikable guy selling the set.  Every single person I have watched with this has the same reaction: laughing and cheering.  The characer is just that slimy and detestable.

Shortly after that, there is a scene where Henry and Otis break into a house and murder a family.  The camera pulls back and you see that the two of them are watching it on a tape they make using a camcorder they stole from the TV guy.  Every single person I have watched with this has the same reaction: dead silence.

There's more to it than, well, the TV guy was awful, and the family didn't do anything to deserve getting murdered.  But did that TV guy deserve to die, just for being a jerk?  Not in hindsight.

Having said all that, the movie is surprisingly bloodless, though you sure won't remember it that way when you are done.  It's that effective.

It's really hard to imagine a more perfect psychopath film.

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