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    Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. A Laserdisc Review

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    DGTWoodward
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    Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. A Laserdisc Review

    Post  DGTWoodward on Tue Aug 02, 2011 5:33 pm

    Laserdisc Review: Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer.


    Format: Laserdisc
    Studio: MPI Home Entertainment
    Year of Release: 1990
    TV Standard: NTSC
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (approx)
    Sound: Stereo on analogue and digital tracks
    Running Time: 83mins
    Discs/Sides: 1 Discs, 2 Sides, CLV

    Replay Equipment:

    PIONEER DVL-909 Laserdisc Player, connected via the Pioneer AV amp.
    PHILLIPS 47” 1080p LCD HDTV (calibrated using a Video Essentials Laserdisc calibration tool)
    PIONEER SR-609K A/V Receiver
    IXOS SILVER Tos-Link audio cable, Belkin ‘AV-GOLD’ Video Lead.
    ELTAX and ACCOUSTIC SOLUTIONS Speakers/sub

    Movie Genre: Graphic Horror Thriller.

    The Movie

    This film is very well made, despite its very modest budget. It is based loosely on the musings of real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.

    The film opens with a montage of scenes that follow Henry’s trail of horrific murders. As the camera follows each death scene, an overlay of audio from that particular murder bursts out from the film, to truly cement just how brutal Henry really is.

    On the outside, Henry (Michael Rooker) is a stand-up guy. He is polite, helpful and holds down a regular job – it’s a quite apt one, he’s an exterminator. He shares an apartment with an old prison friend named Otis (Tony Towles).



    Into their lives comes Becky (Tracy Arnold), Otis’ sister. She has recently split with her husband and their daughter is with her mother, whilst Becky tries to earn some money for them. She moves into the apartment and almost straight away, feels an attraction for Henry. His quiet and shy demeanour attracts her and, whilst Otis is out, she confides in him of her troubled and abused past. Henry too confesses that he also had an abusive parent, an alcoholic prostitute mother that made him watch as she ‘conducted her business’ with men in front of him and then beat him. He also confirms a story that Otis has already told her, that his prison sentence was for killing his mother. This bond of confidence draws her to him.


    The next night, whilst Henry and Otis are in the company of two prostitutes, Henry gets angry at them and kills them both by breaking their necks. Otis is shocked, but does not show or feel any guilt. From that point on Henry begins to school Otis in the way of being an as-yet-free serial killer. He explains that the first step is to make every kill different, from the last, and to keep moving from place to place, so that no clear patterns emerge.


    Therein lay the clues as to how the film will end.

    Despite its horrible reputation and awful subject matter, this is an important film. It is well made too. It presents Henry as the monster, but sadly, the only person we have as a comparison is Otis. Otis, who is physically and morally, repugnant, was clearly only one step away from murder long before Henry ever arrived on the scene. His incestuous letching over his own sister is repulsive on every level of human decency, so when Henry has to step in and take control of the situation, and in a well played piece of cinematic manipulation, you cleverly find yourself cheering for the non-repentant mass murderer!

    The two main leads are very good indeed, with Tony Towles being superbly disgusting as the perverted letch, Otis. But Henry as played by a very young Michael Rooker is excellent, both quiet and deadly all rolled into one.

    From what I have read, Rooker uses the ‘Method’ acting technique and would often stay ‘in character’ all day, sometimes even in the car on the way to the set. It’s said that the person that used to give him a lift never really knew if it was Michael Rooker or “Henry” they were talking to, whilst on the way in to work! So much was he to stay in character, it is said that his wife fell pregnant during filming of H:POASK…but she did not tell him until well after he had finished the movie!!


    The Disk

    The Picture:

    This was not an expensive film. With a budget of only $110,000(US) it was shot on 16mm film and there was no real budget to hire even extras for the movie. The crew, their friends and members of their families, play many different parts, one actress play two of the murdered women in the opening montage sequence and one of the prostitutes killed by Henry and Otis! Now, I know exactly what I was expecting this film to look like on Laserdisc.

    What a great surprise then to see that this MPI Home Entertainment, 1.33:1 NTSC, pressing is actually very good. The details are crisp and clean, with no colour bleed (no pun intended) was obvious and though the colour saturation seemed a little washed out, it did not damage that fact that this was a well made film. Despite (or maybe even because of) its 16mm origin, it does indeed have a very natural and film like quality about it.

    The Sound:

    Audio is available in both analogue and digital flavours, and we watched the film with a digital feed. Everything is fine for the whole movie – both sides – until you get to the last 10 minutes of side 1. It is here that there is some distortion on the digital sound that is very intrusive indeed. It is part buzz, part distortion and part drop-out. It is not, however, present on the analogue tracks.

    That minor glitch aside, the sound is a very acceptable stereo.

    Conclusion:

    I should point out that this film is the unrated and uncensored version. If you have not already seen it, it is still quite shocking even by today’s standards. Indeed, it took 13 years for it to be available uncut on DVD (that’s 1990 to 2003!) Before that, you had to get it in from abroad.

    But the thing is this… It’s not so much that acts of violence themselves as such, you would see the same kinds of things in any modern gangster movie, but it’s the cold clinical way in which Henry pursues his predilection, that one minute he’s quite and polite and the next minute he unleashes the cold powerful beast of brutality he is capable of being. His justification in the movie…”In this world, it’s them or us!”



    OVERALL MARK 9/10




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