A drifter commits a series of murders while staying with a friend in Chicago, loosely based on the life of Henry Lee Lucas.
“I hated all my life. I hated everybody. When I first grew up and can remember, I was dressed as a girl by my mother. And I stayed that way for two or three years. And after that I was treated like what I call the dog of the family. I was beaten. I was made to do things that no human being would want to do.” – Henry Lee Lucas.
It’s been two days since I saw Henry, and during that time I went back and forth about even writing a review for this movie. This is a film that, because of its content, I cannot and will not recommend to anyone, ever. But it’s also a film that I can see the craft that went into it, the brilliance of the writing, and the tragedy of the ending. This film doesn’t glorify the murders carried out by Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, but neither does it shy away from some of the more graphic, disturbing details. The film revels in its exploitative nature, and there are scenes that truly made me uncomfortable (I consider myself a genre-hardened horror fan- there are few films that I haven’t made it all the way through because of their content). In the end I decided to write this review with a disclaimer: I’m not recommending this film or telling you not to watch it, these are simply my thoughts on it.
“It’s always the same and it’s always different.”
Henry (Michael Rooker, “Slither”) is a serial killer who murders random strangers in various different ways and moves around often, so that the police wont catch on. While staying in Chicago with an old prison buddy, Otis (Tom Towles, “Night of the Living Dead”), Otis’s sister Becky (Tracy Arnold, “The Borrower”) comes to stay for a few weeks, and Henry forms a kind of relationship with her. After drinking, Otis makes a pass at his sister and Henry suggests they go out for a beer, and while they do, Henry introduces Otis to his favorite pastime; killing for sport. As Otis gets a taste for killing, Henry wonders Otis if he might’ve made a mistake introducing his loudmouthed and irresponsible friend into the equation.
Even after the first few scenes in this film I knew I was hooked enough that I had to know what happened, but I was watching the film with a morbid fascination. It’s the kind of film where you sit down on the couch and watch with one hand over your eyes and a constant plummeting feeling in your stomach- I suppose it goes without saying: this is not a happy film. I read that originally this film was given an ‘X’ rating, though primarily for violence instead of sexual content, and this picture was one of the reasons for the creation of the NC-17 rating. That doesn’t at all surprise me, if you haven’t already gathered it from my multiple warnings, then let me say it plainly: this movie is screwed up. Where this film excels is in it’s acting and in the way the characters are developed and portrayed; it’s nigh impossible to turn away from Rooker. The way he plays Henry is bone-chillingly disturbing- he seems to show no remorse at all for the horrible things he’s done- he seems to be unable to form any kind of connection whatsoever. Perhaps the most revealing scene in the whole film is when Becky talks to Henry about when he killed his mother. Henry talks with such bitter malice about his mother, but in a single monologue he states two different ways of how he killed her (he says he shot her and stabbed her to death within a minute and a half period). Henry was not an incredibly intelligent man (I’ve looked at a few different reports estimating his IQ was somewhere between 76-87- below average), and the scene between Becky and Henry seems to be a comment on that, but also on the amount of killing Henry has done. We don’t know if Henry forgot how he killed his mother because he’s a touch slow, or if he’s just killed too many people now, and he doesn’t remember which ones he killed in what way. The scene is also interesting to watch because its in that scene that Henry and Becky form the only real connection Henry seems to have in the film. The connection they make is over their traumatic childhoods; Becky’s father molested her, and Henry’s mother dressed him as a girl when he was a child. The strange bond they form does seem to humanize Henry a little bit more, if only for a moment. Otis is a fascinating character as well; he’s a man that starts out as a greasy redneck that is kind of sleazy. Even from the first scene with his sister, Becky, he keeps trying to make a pass at her or saying incredibly inappropriate things. He’s also a character that comes off as oafish, and at times, slightly funny (not in a laugh out loud kind of way, but in a way that feels slightly off for each scene). The character becomes more and more disturbing as the film goes on, and Otis looses himself in violence.
There are some scenes that are executed incredibly well, particularly one scene where Henry and Otis enter a home and kill a family. The scene is all shot on a video camera that the two stole in a previous scene, and we watch the murders play out as they watch it on their living room television set. The scene feels distant, almost removed from the violence, and the two watch the replay of themselves killing the family with the sort of expression on their faces that you’d expect from die-hard fans watching a particularly boring football game. The coldness with which the scene is approached is absolutely chilling and horrifying, but it’s also a great peak into the character’s psyches. None of these scenes are particularly fun or easy to watch, but I can appreciate them for what the director was trying to accomplish, and the technical prowess with which he executed it.
I said it before and I’ll state it again: I do not recommend this film, but I can appreciate it for what it is. As a film it has a tight script, some chilling performances, and some undeniably horrifying scenes, but it’s not a movie that I feel compelled to ever see again; I honestly wouldn’t have been angry if I had never seen this film. For me, this film felt like “American Psycho” without the satire-saturated script- it was cold, difficult to watch, and it left me feeling like I needed to take a shower and watch kids movies for the next few days. I can appreciate that the film is well done, but it was a bit much for me.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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