“Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer” (1985)


By Jerome Reuter

Three films come to mind whenever I think of an actors performance making a horror film. The first two I’ve previously taken a look at at, Joe Spinell in Maniac, and Robert Mitchum in The Night Of The Hunter. The third of this unholy trio  is a no-brainer: Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Although there were some liberties taken with the facts of the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Rooker’s performance is what makes the film downright hilling at times. It also gives us a realistic view into the mind of a psychopath.

Although the film is claimed to have been inspired by Lucas’ fantasies and confessions. I honestly feel it’s not to far off from reality.This is one of the many elements of this film that make it so memorable. Unlike the slasher craze of the mid 80’s, the object that’s instilling fear inside you isn’t a machete wielding thug, he could be you’re next door neighbor.

A serious crime historian might have a problem with some of the embellishments. I however, find it a necessity. For example, Ottis Toole was never murdered by Henry in real life. As a matter of fact, Toole would  die in prison. It also goes without saying: Ottis Toole was one of the most despicable human beings who ever walked the earth. Toole was believed to be responsible for the abduction, rape,  and decapitation of Adam Walsh. (The son of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh).While incarcerated, Toole went so far as to write Walsh a letter, describing in detail every horrid action he committed. Having a character based closely on him being murdered is somewhat poetic justice.

As far as the overall feel of the film,  it’s  the most accurate depiction of a serial killers thought process. For every action committed by Lucas and Toole, there is no remorse or even the slightest bit of regard for any of their victims. You can easily see how the gears work in their diseased minds. In the films most memorable and infamous scene, a killing plays out on screen, only to later show it’s already been committed. Peter and Ottis are watching a recording of what they have committed. As I’ve stated before, film is the ultimate form of voyeurism, this particular scene is a great commentary on that. There’s not a moment that goes by where one’s not intimidated, and awed by Rooker’s performance. Rooker’s characteriztion helps us explore the darker side of human nature, a place where not everyone is willing to go.

How believable is his performance?

During the film’s premiere, Rooker showed up late. A woman who had left to use the restroom happened to bump into Rooker as he was arriving. Apparently, she she was so startled she ran out of the theatre screaming in terror.


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