Starring Neil Giuntoli, Rich Komenich, Kate Walsh
Directed by Chuck Parello
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
If ever a film didn’t need or warrant a sequel, then surely John McNaughton’s brilliant Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is it. For years now I’ve been passing by crusty VHS and, more recently, seemingly even more cruddy-looking DVD copies of Henry II: Mask of Sanity in my local video store. I never thought to give the film a shot, making the hardly unreasonable assumption that this was just another shoddy and unnecessary sequel to a genre classic.
Maybe it was my low expectations or maybe it was the immaculate new DVD presentation provided by Dark Sky Films, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t dig this dirty little ditty of a film!
Henry II starts out with an even more down and out version of Henry (Neil Giuntoli) wandering the streets in search of fresh victims and a little bit of respect. Not surprisingly, the respect he craves is in short supply at the local flophouse where watery soup and anal rape is on the itinerant’s menu. Unable or unwilling to take revenge on those around him, one thing’s for sure, this ain’t the take no shit human time bomb of the first film.
Much of the blame for the missing raw undercurrent of hostility so necessary to Henry’s character must fall on the actor filling Michael Rooker’s shoes. In place of the tough workman-like physique of the first Henry, Neil Giuntoli cuts a laughably short and chubby figure. Thankfully he’s almost always framed from the waist up, leaving us to ponder his passable facial resemblance to Rooker, but every time the camera is forced to capture Giuntoli’s pear-shaped ass or his dainty childlike fingers, the illusion of imminent danger so forcefully depicted in the first film is lost.
Luckily Henry II focuses on a much broader set of characters this time around, and it is in those characters and their story that the film is salvaged, transcending its cash-in aspirations.
In his newfound job as a port-a-potty delivery man, Henry’s work finally echoes his nomadically shitty life. It is here that he meets Otis 2, this time going by the name of Kai (Rich Komenich). Kai is a big hulking unshaven drunk with a heart of, if not gold, at least not inky blackness like Henry. Kai is married to Cricket (Kate Walsh), a fading beauty on the verge of burying her looks and spirit under a heap of booze, cigarettes, and hard living. Kai and Cricket look after Cricket’s orphaned teenage niece, Louisa, and together the three of them live a reasonably happy, if trailer-trashy, life. Unfortunately for them, they make the ill-fated decision to invite Henry into their home while he gets back on his feet.
It’s not all domestic bliss and romps with the teenage niece though. Henry’s gotta get paid, find himself a gun and a car, and get back to his killing ways. Henry gets back on his twisted track once Kai’s invites him to partake in his shady sideline of torching buildings for insurance money. During one of their adventures in arson, Kai and Henry stumble upon a couple of crackheads who witness their firebug shenanigans. Of course Henry knows just what to do and indoctrinates Kai into the world of killing for fun.
The murder scenes are graphic, gory, and involve no shortage of spurting arteries; but they lack some of the documentary voyeurism of the first film. Instead of feeling as if you’re being forced to watch a lowlife snuff film, this time around the violence has a slashery vibe to it, as if Henry is taking his first furtive steps towards mass-sequelization.
The real meat of the second act is in the relationships among Kai, Cricket, Louisa, and Henry. As Kai becomes more caught up in the thrill of murder, his already tenuous relationship with Cricket begins to fall apart. During one particularly trashy scene, Kai nearly backhands Cricket after he is unable to fulfill his conjugal duties due to having wasted his boner killin’ folks with Henry. Meanwhile Louisa, whose drawings show a penchant for violence herself, attempts to seduce a numbed and uninterested Henry. Maybe I was feeling particularly receptive, but I found myself caring about Kai, Cricket, and Louisa. The family has a certain good ol’ boy likeability to them that makes the viewer want to see them make it out of their encounter with Henry intact.
But, not surprisingly, by the end of the film Henry drives off into the sunset after aving used up and spit out pretty much everyone he’s met. One gets the distinct impression that original Henry producers Waleed and Malik Ali and director Chuck Parello were attempting to set up Henry to be the next big episodic slasher, a sort of wandering murderous Lassie, primed to meet and ruin a new family every week. While this concept certainly trivializes the power of the first film, one can’t help but wonder what a Henry television show would have been like. Henry II is as close as we’re ever likely to get. Makes you wonder what Henry’s up to now…
But what about the DVD you ask? Considering Henry II is hardly a classic, the good folks at Dark Sky Films have managed to dredge up a good amount of material.
The transfer is very crisp and marks the first widescreen presentation of Henry II on video. It’s also worth mentioning that this release contains an extra couple minutes of footage, most of it additional gore.
The featurette H2: The Making of a Madman clocks in under 15 minutes and consists of footage filmed during the making of Henry II. It provides interviews with the director and many of the actors and is notable mainly due to the fact that Neil Giuntoli is way scarier in real life than he is in the movie. The disc fares slightly better in its offering of nearly 30 minutes of deleted scenes, many of which are pretty watchable and some of which could be inserted back into the film (Henry on acid deleted scene, I’m talking about you!). The commentary, trailers, and still galleries are all pretty standard fare. Worth a peek but not particularly interesting or insightful.
Feature-length commentary by director Chuck Parello
H2: The Making of a Madman featurette
3 out of 5
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