• Audrey Walter

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

The Henry Lee Lucas Wikipedia Page is More Exciting

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a 1986 movie directed by John McNaughton. But its release was in 1990 because of some controversy and editing to please audiences. When I watched the movie, I didn’t think anything was too controversial. Hellraiser was filmed in 1987 and was exceptionally more gory and scary. But I then realized that Hellraiser had controversy and editing as well. It seems like most horror movies from this time were edited quite a bit. It’s hilarious how these movies compare to the Saw franchise.

One of the scariest of all time? Not really.
One of the scariest of all time? Not really.

Spoilers Ahead!

Anyway, I was attracted to this movie because one, I love horror, and two, I love Michael Rooker. His acting in Guardians of the Galaxy as Yondu impressed me, as did his role in Slither. But this movie didn’t do anything for me. It’s based on an actual serial killer named Henry Lee Lucas who was known as the “Confession Killer.” I assumed the movie would go into detail about this killer’s life and into his killings, but it didn’t. We only get to see a small retelling of Henry’s backstory and a glimpse of Henry Lee Lucas’ penchant for lying.

I felt like reading his Wikipedia page was more interesting than watching the movie!

Aside from Henry, there are only two other notable characters named Becky (Tracy Arnold) and Otis (Tom Towles), who are siblings. Their acting was quite standard. I didn’t find Michael Rooker outstanding, but he did a great job of being uncomfortable. There are several times where Becky tries to come on to Henry, so he tends to shy away awkwardly. It felt very realistic.

But the script was not impressive at all and that’s why the acting wasn’t that great either. The lackluster script made the characters very one-dimensional. This is detrimental since we are watching a movie about a serial killer. I expected a lot more sides from Henry!

You don’t even get to see many victims get killed in the movie, either. They would show a mutilated woman dead on the ground and then cut to Henry, showing that he killed her. There wasn’t much action, and when there was, it mostly took the form of a loud neck snap. I’m not complaining about the neck snap sound, though. It sounded pretty gruesome, I’ll give it that.

The plot was too cut and dry for a movie based on a serial killer. There was no build-up and no climax, only random small actions. There was nothing fresh about it either. In the 80s, this movie could’ve been a gruesome tale of a serial killer. The real “portrait of a serial killer.” But it just falls flat. I wanted to learn more about Henry’s habit of lying, his childhood, how he got caught, and how he did the killings. Henry mentions in the movie that it’s bad to have a calling card, but did he have one in real life? I don’t know! But it seemed in the movie it was neck-snapping…

There were also these laughable echoing screams that would occur when the movie showed a body that could’ve been removed. All it succeeded at was making me laugh, and I’m sure that wasn’t their goal. And throughout the film, there was a very grainy filter that bothered me. I didn’t know if it was a style choice, the camera, or just the quality of films in the 80s.

I may be a bit too harsh about the neck-snapping since there were other unique deaths. At one point Otis and Henry kill a TV salesman by stabbing him with his own soldering pen and then smashing a TV over his head and turning it on. Now that’s unique! I also loved it when Becky stabbed her brother Otis in the eye after sexually assaulting her. I love justice.

I noticed with these three characters that the director took a lot of liberty with their stories. Becky (Frieda “Becky” Powell, in real life) and Otis (Ottis Toole in real life) were not actually siblings. In fact, Otis was Becky’s uncle and the rape of Becky never happened.

As far as I’ve read, Otis claimed he was homosexual and in a relationship with Henry. I assume the movie left that out because of opinions on gay people at the time. There is so much more information on the real Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas, so I encourage anyone to read about it. I’m very disappointed that this movie left so much out.

My Verdict?

Overall, this movie frustrated me. It could’ve been something amazing for the time but it just fell flat. It was quite apparent that the film crew made this in only 28 days and had a budget of around 100k. Even my review had to be short because there wasn't much material to review in the first place!

This movie could’ve been iconic and a staple in the serial killer genre. I’ve heard that Netflix made a docuseries about Henry Lee Lucas called The Confession Killer, so give that a look if you want to know more about the killer.

I give Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer a 3/10.

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