Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)


Year: 1986
Directed by: John McNaughton
Starring: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold
Country: USA
Language: English (English subtitles)
Runtime: 01:22:15
Genres: Serial Killers, Snuff, Incest, Rape/Sexual Violence against Women, Siblings

Plot – Spoilers:
A loose adaptation of the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer ponders over the period in Henry’s life when he partnered with Ottis Toole. The real Henry was convicted for 11 murders though at one point he claimed over 3000 victims.

Henry Lee Lucas mostly murdered women as a sort of retrospective getting-even with his prostitute mother who subjected him to a host of degrading acts as a child. In this movie version, certain creative liberties have been taken – for example, the character of Becky, Ottis’ sister, is loosely based on the real Ottis’ teenager niece, Becky Powell.

Like irl, there are pointers in the movie to a homosexual relationship between Henry and Ottis, complemented by Henry’s discomfort whenever Becky makes advances on him. One thing’s clear though – unlike Ottis, Henry was more methodical and smart about his murders and knew where to draw the line to keep the cops at bay as long as possible.

Favourite Scenes:
1. Though Ottis rapes Becky later on, their first interaction after he picks her up is fun to watch and doesn’t suggest his perverse intentions.

However, during the scene where she changes into the ‘I Love Chicago’ t-shirt, you do wonder about their growing up years – her father regularly molested her and it is quite likely Ottis was aware or even witness to it. He also makes a joking reference to seeing her dance naked at home…

2. After Becky informs Henry of her decision to leave the city, their awkward make out session is interrupted by Ottis. Henry then steps out to pick up smokes and there is a marked difference in his behaviour. He just does regular things and even changes his mind about killing the old lady with the dog. At this point you feel, having someone who cares for him is perhaps like rehabilitation, albeit brief.

Though Henry soon murders Becky, she appears to be a victim of his methodical and don’t-give-the-cops-a-sniff approach rather than his serial nature.

One thought on “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

  • March 16, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Such an artistic film, this ones been on my list for some time. And I must say you guys run an amazing site 🙂


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