CinemaClown’s review published on Letterboxd:
An utterly discomforting journey into the mind of a sadist, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is exactly what its subtitle suggests. Brutal, disturbing & absolutely uncompromising with its content, Henry is unsettling from the very first frame but what really separates it from other similar examples is its stringent focus on telling the story from the killer's perspective.
Loosely based on real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry covers the crime spree of its titular character who goes around randomly killing people without any remorse or empathy. The plot mainly focuses on his stay in Chicago where he lives with Otis, a drug dealer he befriended in prison, and the inner turmoil he undergoes when the latter's sister comes to stay with them.
Co-written & directed by John McNaughton, Henry establishes an uneasy tone within the first few minutes in which we see this sociopath driving around the town but interspersed within that imagery are snippets of the brutality he leaves behind on every corner. Most of Henry's murders take place off the screen and yet its effect is deeply felt, which can be attributed to the film's clever use of sound effects.
The film is truly an unhinged view of a mind filled with reckless hate but it is also extremely honest in illustrating the root cause of Henry's evilness, his philosophy of life & the ruthless but calculated nature of his crimes. Shot on a shoestring budget, the movie makes use of real locations & settings that gives its story an added sense of realism, which in turn ends up making the experience all the more horrifying.
Despite the low budget, the technical aspects are no slouch here for the film creatively uses its limited resources to full potential and all of it works in harmony to serve its story as well as characters, whether it's the bleak shots of Chicago streets, the stark arrangement of few scenes juxtaposed together, the pace at which its plot unfolds, the brilliant use of sound & music to further amplify its ominous vibe, and keeping it as true to real life as possible.
Coming to the performances, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer features a committed cast in Michael Rooker, Tom Towles & Tracy Arnold, with all three of them doing an excellent job in their given roles. Rooker is obviously the show-stealer here for his rendition of Henry is downright chilling, effective & exquisitely balanced. Towles begins his act as if his character is a bit dim but as the plot progresses, he adopts a highly repulsive persona that's going to shock many, and even Arnold does well with what she's given.
On an overall scale, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer isn't a film for everyone. It's an absolute horror show that takes a no-holds-barred approach with its content, swims against the tide of its time by refusing a moral conclusion, is bolstered by three convincing performances, utilises its available resources amazingly well, and despite lacking the graphic depiction of murders, barring one paralysing family massacre sequence, can leave its viewers emotionally scarred. A low-budget classic that shows that people in real life are capable of inflicting more horror than any monster on silver screen, Henry comes highly recommended.