If you're a vulnerable young woman who gets on hit on by lecherous older men, you might think that you could do worse than having a guy like Henry at your side. He has a low tolerance for ass grabbers, for one; he's known to take such bird dogs by their hair and give them a smashing or two. This is the impression of Henry that Becky, the sister of Henry's sole friend and temporary housemate Otis, gets in John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The audience gets, well, a different one, complete with Coke bottles, television sets, electric screwdrivers and lamp cords used as instruments of torture and death. Michael Rooker plays Henry with a hangdog expression that ranges subtly from blank to contemptuous; Tom Towles plays his accomplice Otis, a greasy, grimy loser with buck teeth who molests his sister and giggles with good-ol'-boy glee. They're perhaps the most despicable movie duo in history, and they're electrifying.
Shot on location in Chicago in 1985 for a paltry $110,000, Henry, as we now know, turned into an indie thriller cause célèbre. Time has not softened its most chilling moments. The most sickening scenes not only show Henry's deeds but emphasize the emotional upheaval of the slaughtered. A one-take, 70-second home-video shot of a whole family's undoing plays without music in nakedly matter-of-fact fashion. Only psychopaths will be able to shake it from memory.
The restoration looks appropriately dour and grimy. No amount of fine-tuning, however, can fix Henry's amateurish stylistic qualities. Low budget or not, there is simply no reason for its reliance on clumsy fade-outs. Still, it's a gruesomely riveting sucker punch of a movie.