Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer - Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer (Blu Ray) [Arrow Video - 2022]
Released in the mid-1980's Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer is one of the defining, highly important and still deeply troubling benchmarks in serial killer cinema. It’s a blend of stark kitchen sink psychodrama and grimy warts ‘n’ all character study- which is fed through with haunting & disturbing snapshots of death, and all-out brutal/ gruelling murder. Here from Arrow Video UK, is a new double-disc Blu Ray release of the film- bringing together a 4k scan of the picture, a new commentary track, and a good selection of excellent new and old extras.
Appearing in the year 1986 Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer, was the first feature-length film by Chicago born John McNaughton (Wild Things, Normal Life, Speaking Of Sex). It was filmed in and around the grimy and grey sights of his hometown, and is very roughly based on the true-life murders of Henry Lee Lucas and his partner in crime Ottis Toole.
After its stark white on black credits- the film opens with a montage of still’s/ snapshots of after murder, which is joined by the distant sound of screams and struggles. These include a dead naked woman dumped in long grass, and topless/ disarranged underwear wearing woman in a bathroom, with a bottle forced into her mouth. Fairly soon we see Ottis (Tom Towles) a sleazy comb-over thirty-something man, picking up his younger blond-haired sister Becky(Tracy Arnold) from the cites airport. He takes her back to his small and stark flat. This he shares with his quieter and rather emotional-less ex-con buddy Henry (Michael Rooker).
As the film unfolds, we find that Henry is a serial killer- seemingly selecting the victims he kills and the way he offs them randomly, as a way to throw off being detected. He pulls the already sleazy and drug dealing Ottis into the killings. Going on from choking/ snapping necks of hookers, and brutal soldering iron stabbing a huge TV salesman- going onto carrying out a filmed-on VHS house invasion, where a family are raped, killed, and mockingly played with. Before things start to unfold for the three-moving towards an ultra-bleak resolve.
Rooker is perfect as the sullen, emotionless, though at points seemingly caring for Becky serial killer. Towles literal seeps sleazy unease whenever he’s on the screen. And Arnold works well as the rapidly get out of her depth Becky. With the small surrounding all been believable/ gritty too. The effects/ deaths- as mentioned, are first shown as stills/ fix shots, but as we get into the film, we get some really very harrow attacks/ kills- which all accumulate with the still highly shocking house invasion, and a stabbing/ decapitation.
I first saw Henry in the early 90s when it first got a VHS release in the UK- and I can still recall how shocked, unsettled, and disturbed by the film I was. More often than not, the more you watch a film/passing time lessens its impact, but re-watching Henry again for this review- it still very much packs an unsettling and grim punch- and I still feel deeply troubled and glum as the credits roll.
Moving onto this new two-disc blu ray set, and we get a new 4k scan of the film- this really enhances the grimness of the whole thing, as well of course making the bloodier moments a bit more grimy & gruelling. On the first disc, we get a good selection of new & archive extras- of the new stuff we have a track with director John McNaughton & producer Steven A. Jones, and this is most worthy. They start off by saying that they wanted to just call the film Henry- but were convinced to lengthy the title, so as not to get confused with historical type films. They talk about the early victims being played by the same woman, who switched wigs for each victim. They mention at the time they were making the film Henry claimed he had killed three hundred and sixty people- this later got discounted, as it was found he lied about most of them. They talk about many of the film's actors coming from a theatre background, and this been most of their first feature film. They discuss the dressing down of the apartment, Tom Towles fake teeth, and apparently, Rooker had only one jacket- so it had taken off when blood was involved. Later on, they discuss the large man selling videos- who apparently was involved in video piracy in real life. They mention that many of the locations were connected to friends/ family, and many of the smaller parts were played by friends/family. They talk about the roads/ streets used around the city and discuss its soundtrack- which at points was deliberately made uglier as a scene went along. And much more- a really well worth a play track.
Next of the new stuff, we get a selection of three scenes that were cut for UK release, with commentary tracks from the director & critic Nigel Floyd. This is most interesting, giving a great insight into why certain elements were cut/ what the director thought about the cuts. We have twenty-one minutes of outtakes/ cut scenes- with a commentary track from the director and Severin’s David Gregory- I’m not sure if this is new or old, but again it’s a great extra.
Definitely, on the archive side on the first disc we get two commentary tracks, both from the director- ones from 1999, and the other from the mid-2000s. There’s an image gallery, original script, and trailer.
On the second disc, we find again a good selection of new and archive extras. So, from the new stuff we have- Twisting the Lens: The Diegetic Camera and Voyeurism in Henry- this runs at the twenty-three-minute mark, and finds the likes of John McNaughton, Adam Rockoff, Anna Bogutskaya and Jonathan Rigby discussing the films voyeuristic element, in particular the house invasion scene. They also discuss similar scenes in the likes of Peeping Tom, Man Eats Dog, and the 2010 I Spit On Your Grave remake. Next, we In Défense of Henry- this runs just over the twenty-minute mark, and finds Joe Swanberg, Kim Morgan, Jeffrey Sconce, Joe Bob Briggs and Errol Morris discussing their appreciation of the film. There’s Henry at the BBFC – this runs twenty-seven minutes, and finds the always great Stephen Thrower talking about the film UK censorship history- going from giving a potted history of BBFC and its censors, moving on he details how the film was cut, and head censor James Ferman seemed fit to re-cut the notorious house invasion scene, lessening its impact. We have Henry vs. MPAA- which is an eleven-minute visual history of the film in the US. We have a twenty-minute onscreen interview with the director.
On the archive side of things, we have a 2005 making-of doc by Blue Underground. We have a selection of six interviews with the likes of the director(several), the film's producer, Joe Colman who did the poster art for the film's reissue. So, a great, selection of classy and good extras- be they new or old.
The finished release comes with a limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing by Shaun Kimber, Peter Vronsky, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Julian Petley, as well as original storyboards for the film. A double-sided fold-out poster, and six collector’s postcards.
In conclusion, it’s wonderful to see Arrow Video giving such a stellar and thorough reissue of this impactful and unsettling film. And even if you own it already own it in another format, this new release really is something you have to pick up!.Roger Batty