Sunday, March 3, 2013

Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer

I took a date to see this movie back in 1990 when it played at a theater in Berkeley. It went over about as well as one might expect it would. Considering the fact that I would do it all over again if I had the chance, it's not surprising that my date never had anything to do with me after watching this movie.

Twenty-seven years after being filmed, this still has an unnerving quality to it that dozens of other films have tried to imitate and exceedingly few have even approached success at doing so. If it weren't for the garish synthesizer score this could be one of the most cold-blooded and horrifying movies ever filmed. Even with the missteps of the music (apparently composed by a relative of the writer/director, surprise surprise) it's still brimming with sangfroid throughout.

There are some interesting thematic choices that are used here - whether for artistic merit or the constraints of a tight budget I'm not sure, but they've aged well. Early in the film there are several scenes that show dead bodies while audio plays of the victims' final moments. It's a clever conceit, and it's unsettling how long the scenes last. The actors are clearly very good at holding their collective breath. Don't tell me you don't look for breathing when you see a scene with a corpse in a movie. Given that the most graphic scene has kinda shitty makeup effects, it's definitely for the best that more is implied than shown.

The acting in this movie ranges from very good to amazing. Michael Rooker is so perfect for this role that he probably still makes people cross the street when they see him coming. He makes overrated zombie dramas on TV worth watching, even. Tom Towles is absolutely revolting as dimwit sidekick Otis, to the point where every time he flashes his giant yellow tombstone teeth you clench up, wondering what shit he's going to try to pull next.

This movie even made social commentary about our voyeuristic tendencies regarding violence in a more cogent and disturbing fashion than that wretched hunk of shit Natural Born Killers did many years later. The infamous home invasion scene, shown in retrospect as Otis and Henry watch it back at home, implicates the viewer and is also completely awful to experience all at the same time. That's a hard trick to pull off.

To live in a world with Henry, Becky and Otis even for a short time is a frightening prospect, and that speaks to the special nature of this movie. I'm sure you've seen it, but if not, then you really should. Just don't watch it with a date.

Tomorrow: Night Train Murders

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