Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer [1986]

Most horror films exist in a fantasy movie-world safely removed from our existence, populated by zombie-like killers and psychopathic madmen. The power of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is its chilling placement in the mundane existence of everyday life. Michael Rooker plays Henry not as a raving psychopath but as the frumpy guy next door, a drifter who takes out his frustrations on random victims and escalates his body count after teaming up with the violent ex-con Otis (Tom Towles). Though not exceedingly gory in light of the excesses of such fantasy horrors as the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series, director John McNaughton's straightforward presentation and documentary-like style creates a chilling realism that many viewers will find hard to watch. McNaughton neither comments on nor flinches at the brutal violence, which reaches its apex in a disturbing camcorder-eye view of a particularly sadistic murder of a middle-class couple, with Henry and Otis smiling through the deed as they record it for their continued pleasure. Henry straddles the line between True Crime (though fictional, the story was inspired by the confessions of real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas) and horror, a bleak, brutal kind of terror for a generation deadened by the escalating outrageousness of movie murders and nightly news crime scene clips. --Sean Axmaker

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