Retrospective: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) - 30 Years of Pure Evil - Dread Central
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Retrospective: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) – 30 Years of Pure Evil



Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer inspired by the real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas is a character study portrayal of the titular character. This true-life inspiration is based more on Lucas’ confessions and fantasies rather than the actual truth of the murders he was convicted for, as many of his confessions were false. The Henry here is the protagonist as the story is seen entirely from his point of view but he just so happens to be a serial killer; this is a slice of life depiction of a week in the life of a psychopath.


The directorial feature debut of John McNaughton co-writing the screenplay with Richard Fire and filmed over just 28 days on 16 mm is shot in a gritty realistic docu-drama style. Director of photography Charlie Lieberman employs a flat rigid framing helping to generate this look and feel of realism. This is perfectly supplemented by the powerfully ominous score composed by the trio of Ken Hale, Steven A. Jones and Robert McNaughton.


The opening scenes of the film include a montage of grisly shots showing us the dead bodies of five people. The first shot is of the body of a young woman posed in the exact same position as one of the victims in a case in which Henry Lee Lucas was a chief suspect. These shots represents a portfolio of the Henry here as if he were an artist as they are intercut with the scenes introducing us to this character as he goes about his day. He finishes breakfast in a cafe, takes a drive and spots a potential female victim, follows her home and deciding to leave it for now he then picks up a hitchhiker carrying a guitar… we only see the guitar again.


Over the course of the entire proceedings, McNaughton does not include one law enforcement officer on screen. This contributes to the presentation of a bleak, harsh and cruel world a seemingly lawless one stripping us of any comforts we might feel. The viewer is subjected to the sole company of Henry (Michael Rooker) and his partner in his murderous crimes Otis (the late Tom Towles) as they roam freely in Chicago to murder whomever they want in the most gruesome of ways.


Rooker plays Henry with a grim determination. His performance is wholly convincing – chilling, intense and truly unforgettable. It is one of the most terrifying performances ever committed to celluloid. In what is a disturbing graphically violent movie, McNaughton and Fire sprinkle throughout subtle touches of dark humour. Henry’s roommate Otis is the funny man to his straight man presented in a darkly humorous manner providing some black as coal comedic relief in an otherwise downbeat affair full of hopelessness. Towles’ role as Otis is extremely effective in this respect largely due to his background in improvisational comedy. Tracy Arnold as Otis’ younger sister Becky who is staying with them in their apartment turns in a solid performance as a tragic figure. Her character has led a life of nothing but misery drawing our sympathies, as she remains here well and truly luckless.


The Henry here does share many similarities with the real life Henry Lee Lucas. Like this Henry, Lucas’ mother was abusive and a prostitute who would dress him up in girls’ clothes and forced him to watch her have sex with her clients. His father was a truck driver who was struck by a freight train and lost both of his legs. The character in the film tells Becky the same story. The real Henry killed his mother and spent several years in prison. The character based on him makes the same claim but there is a great deal of uncertainty whether he did it or not due to the contradicting account of how he committed the murder. Like the real life Henry, he is a compulsive liar.


As here, Henry Lee Lucas became friends in prison with drifter and male prostitute Ottis Toole and they went on to become roommates when released. Although, the name given here is Otis. Lucas was also a paedophile who had a sexual relationship with Toole’s 12-year-old niece Frieda Powell who lived with them for many years. Frieda preferred the name Becky. Obviously though the portrayal here has Becky as Otis’ sister and as a fully-grown woman. Another noticeable difference is that due to the psychological damage inflicted by his mother Henry goes into fits of rage when he sees sexual acts performed in front of him. However, the real life Henry was a rapist.


In a pivotal scene emphasising that the title character is indeed the protagonist, a rude backstreet TV salesman insults Henry and Otis when they are looking for a new television set. We know by this point they are murderers and there is this detestable character antagonizing them and we are just waiting for him to get his comeuppance. More so, we really want it to happen as the director forces us to relate to the evil doers. We have all been there experiencing confrontations with ignorant pricks like this in the stresses of our day-to-day lives and hope karma comes back to bite them. Here we get to see our fantasies lived out. The scene is also played out humorously to help us enjoy this violence as cinematic entertainment. John McNaughton cleverly flips the script, as just in a previous scene we were sickened when Henry dispatches two prostitutes with brutal efficiency.


In another pivotal scene juxtaposed to this is the family massacre; one of the most prolonged, intense and harrowing examples of what evil humans are capable of doing that I have ever experienced in cinema. The previous scene depicted violence as entertainment but here we have the grim reality of it again. Henry and Otis shoot their heinous crime on a video camera they took from the TV salesman. They play back the tape on the television in their apartment watching it as if it were home entertainment. When Lieberman’s camera leaves the close-up of the atrocities we are witnessing on the screen of their TV set to reveal Henry and Otis viewing their despicable handiwork it is as if we are watching it right there with them participating in their entertainment but it is no longer fun. It is a hideous act making for an excruciatingly uncomfortable moment.

McNaughton flips the script once again from getting us to enjoy violence to then subjecting us to more but this is impossible for us to take pleasure in. However, due to the way he has filmed this sequence we are still the voyeurs sitting right alongside Henry and Otis while they are taking pleasure in their own abominable entertainment. The director is challenging us to ask ourselves what we are willing to accept for cinematic violence as entertainment.


This is far more frightening than any aliens, ghosts, slashers, zombies and demonic monsters in the horror genre, as you are never going to have a run in with these. That is purely fictional entertainment. There is no fantasy here just the fact that the real world is not a nice place and there could well be a sociopathic stranger waiting around the corner for you as their next victim. As one of the taglines says, “He’s not Freddy. He’s not Jason. He’s real.” This is most definitely about a monster but a human monster – a cold-blooded killer. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer remains just as much as a potently repugnant depiction of pure evil today as it did thirty years ago that forces us to look at the way we view screen violence.


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Go Christmas Caroling with The Killing of a Sacred Deer



Given that I personally have gone Christmas caroling with various lunatics hopped up on eggnog, what the hell… why not go Christmas caroling with The Killing of a Sacred Deer? Dig on this latest clip!

Look for the flick starring Colin Farrell (Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, In Bruges, 2009) and co-starring Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (Best Actress, The Hours, 2003) to hit Blu-ray, DVD, and digital on January 23rd. Yorgos Lanthimos directs.

Special features include “An Impossible Conundrum” featurette, and the package will be priced at $24.99 and $19.98, respectively.

Dr. Steven Murphy (Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon presiding over a spotless household with his ophthalmologist wife, Anna (Kidman), and their two exemplary children, 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic) and 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Lurking at the margins of Steven’s idyllic suburban existence is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen he has covertly taken under his wing.

As Martin begins insinuating himself into the family’s life in ever-more unsettling displays, the full scope of his intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter the Murphy family’s domestic bliss.

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Which Monsters May Be Making Their TV Debut in Junji Ito Collection?



Studio Deen’s highly-anticipated anime anthology Junji Ito Collection has been building buzz, especially since its new teaser dropped weeks ago. Eagle-eyed fans who are well-acquainted with horror mangaka Junji Ito’s body of work will spot some familiar faces in the new trailer, brought to the small screen by showrunner Shinobu Tagashira.

So, who among Ito’s famous menagerie of monsters may be making an appearance in the show when it airs next year?

Oshikiri Toru

Oshikiri is the morally-questionable highschooler who begins to question his perception of reality in Hallucinations, a series of some loosely connected one-shots. Oshikiri’s a little on the short side, with an even shorter fuse. One thing he’s not short on is moneyas evidenced by his impressive, albeit creepy, mansion. We’ve yet to see which of his adventureswhich range from murder to parallel dimensionswill be his television debut.


The once-chatty Yuuko falls ill and sees her worst fears come to pass in Slug Girl, the famous one-shot whose brand of body horror is sure to feel like a distant cousin (or maybe a predecessor?) to Uzumaki‘s “The Snail” chapter. It offers little in the way of answers but is best enjoyed in all its bizarre glory.

The Intersection Bishounen

In Lovesick Dead, one of Ito’s longer standalone stories, an urban legend causes a rash of suicides when young girls begin to call upon a mysterious, black-clad spirit called the Intersection Bishounen. The custom catches on quickly among teenagers, out late and eager for him to tell them their fortune in life and love, since his advice is to die for. Literally.

Souichi Tsujii

A long-running recurring character in Ito’s manga (probably second only to Tomie herself), you’ll know Souichi by the nails he sucks on or sticks out of his moutha strange habit borne out of an iron deficiency. He’s an impish kid whose fascination with the supernatural makes him the odd man out in an otherwise normal family. The morbid pranks he likes to playfunny only to him—don’t do much to endear him to his peers or relatives, either.


The titular character in Fashion Model, Fuchi works as a professional model for her, shall we say, unique look and Amazonian stature. When she and another actress are hired by a crew of indie filmmakers, Fuchi shows them that she doesn’t like sharing the limelight. She also makes a cameo in a couple of Souichi’s stories, and in them he finds her genuinely attractive. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

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Nemo Rising Signing Happening at Dark Delicacies on December 23



Author C. Courtney Joyner will be signing copies of his new book Nemo Rising at Burkank’s Dark Delicacies horror store on Saturday, December 23 at 4pm. You can get the full details of the event and directions on Dark Delicacies’ website.

Nemo Rising will be a sequel to Jules Verne’s 1870 masterpiece Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and will see President Ulysses S. Grant recruiting the notorious Captain Nemo to destroy a gigantic sea monster which has been responsible for sinking ships. The gigantic eight-tentacled mollusc can be seen on the book’s cover below, and it looks like Nemo will have his work cut out for him.

Joyner also worked on the screenplays for the Full Moon films Doctor Mordrid and Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys, whilst his previous books include Hell Comes To Hollywood and the Shotgun series. If you can’t make it to the signing, Nemo Rising will be released in the US on December 26, and in the UK on January 13.

Nemo Rising Dark Delicacies Signing Details:
​Nemo Rising will be released on hardcover from Tor Books on December 26th, 2017.

JUST ANNOUNCED: On December 23rd at 4:00 PM, C. Courtney Joyner will sign copies of NEMO RISING at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, California!

C. COURTNEY JOYNER is an award-winning writer of fiction, comics, and screenplays. He has more than 25 movies to his credit, including the cult films Prison, starring Viggo Mortensen; From a Whisper to a Scream, starring Vincent Price; and Class of 1999, directed by Mark Lester. A graduate of USC, Joyner’s first produced screenplay was The Offspring, which also starred Vincent Price. Joyner’s other scripts have included TV movies for CBS, USA, and Showtime. He is the author of The Shotgun western series and Nemo Rising.

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