In the late 90's, when DVD was still in its infancy stages, MPI released Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer to the format with little to no fanfare. There were some slight sound synch issues and the transfer wasn't as sparkling or pristine as some would have hoped - therefore it was quickly written off by many only to go out of print, never to be heard from again. It's taken quite a bit of time, but MPI's latest arm, Dark Sky Films is about to unveil a 2-Disc Edition of this seminal classic. Resurfacing on the format with a brand new transfer and all new extras, there's no doubt that this time around, fans will be praising the efforts of Dark Sky and all those involved in finally bringing Henry home for good...once and for all.
Based on the real life exploits of Henry Lee Lucas, a vicious serial killer who confessed to well over 300 murders, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a dark, brooding and all too honest attempt at a character study of the unlikeliest sorts...an almost 'sympathetic' serial killer. The question as to how much of what's told here actually carries over to the real world is more than debatable, but in the end, doesn't lessen the impact or importance of the film in the least.
As the film opens, the camera pans over an assortment of victims. Victims that have been drowned, strangled or stabbed and we're only to assume that Henry is responsible. Over the horrific visuals we hear the sounds of struggle and screams in what we can only imagine to be each victims attempt for a last resort of survival...all failed attempts at that.
From this point forward, there's not much (if anything) I can say that will do any justice to the series of events that unfold. Note that there are three major players; Henry (the incomparable Michael Rooker), (his roommate) Otis (Tom Towles) and Otis' younger sister Becky (Tracy Arnold).
Henry is a true indication of the independent spirit of filmmaking and exhibits virtues that seem to be missing from many independent films today. It's worth noting those involved truly lucked out in the sense that they had financers willing to dump $100,000 on this film sight unseen so they naturally took the money and ran with their story. Unfortunately, in the end, the financers didn't know what to do with the final product that they had been given, which would then lead to Henry's ultimate demise.
Performances are at the heart of Henry and those involved (no matter how big or small a role) manage to breath a sense of life into these characters so convincingly, the onscreen exploits have almost a documentary-like feel. Rooker puts in the performance of a lifetime as the almost sympathetic/misunderstood serial killer and Towles is menacing as the older brother who's always poking at his younger sister. It's innocent poking at first, but we soon find there's a lustful level of deviance that really only comes out full force once Otis has joined forces with Henry in a couple of his 'runs.' Although there is an indication of what's to come early on in the film in a disturbing scene as Otis prompts Becky to model her new t-shirt. Tracy Arnold as the abused outsider Becky tries desperately to fit in looking for comfort and someone to love her as unconditionally as she's willing to love someone herself.
While the film itself is certainly horrifying, I'd hesitate to even brand it a horror film. And the violence, while definitely present and accounted for, is not quite as frequent as one may suspect. Often the violence is relegated to after the fact footage of murders, really until the tail end of the film. Even so, the actual onscreen bloodshed is the least gruesome of elements here. This includes a scene in which Henry and Otis videotape their crimes (after ripping off a black market salesman no less) in a horrifyingly memorable scene that many have come to associate the film with. While Henry can at times be a very difficult film to watch, it's still quite the rewarding cinematic experience in the end.
Dark Sky has done a terrific job with this release. Henry looks and sounds great. Print damage? Virtually non-existent. And for those of you who hate your film grain, well, it's there, but not distracting. Henry remains a low budget film that was shot quickly and shot on 16mm twenty years ago. That being said, Henry probably hasn't looked this good since its initial screenings. Bravo.
Extras on disc one include a full-length audio commentary with director John McNaughton, a trailer for Henry and Henry 2 and a still gallery. Disc two includes the documentaries Portrait: The Making of Henry and The Serial Killers: Henry Lee Lucas. The making of piece runs just about 45-minutes and is an exceptional value added piece with behind the scenes infor from all the major players, in front of and behind the camera including Rooker himself. There's also a reel of deleted scenes and outtakes (no sound, so there is commentary) and a slew of original storyboards.
Dig in folks, it's another outstanding release from newcomer Dark Sky Films...holding their own exceptionally well in a crowded cult/horror dvd market. Not to be missed.