Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

83 mins | Drama, Horror | April 1986

Full page view
HISTORY

According to production notes in AMPAS library files and an article in the 4 Jan 1990 Boston Globe, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was shot on 16mm and originally converted to video for the MPI Home Video company as a planned "direct-to-video" release. However, MPI was disappointed by the film’s art house sensibility and lack of gore. A video copy premiered at the 1986 Chicago International Film Festival, but distributors who initially showed interest backed out because of competing video rights, fear of a lawsuit from a real serial killer who inspired the move, and the Motion Picture Association of America’s insistence on giving Henry an X rating, which would limit newspaper advertising and exhibitor deals.
       After playing occasionally as a “midnight movie” at Chicago’s Music Box Theater and screening once in New York City, the 16mm film was blown up to 35mm and presented at the September 1989 Telluride Film Festival. Though some attendees walked out, the audience responded favorably overall, and most critics raved, earning Henry a slot at the Boston Film Festival. After the film’s release in 1990, Maljack Productions sued the MPAA for $50,000, the 18 May 1990 HR reported, because its Code and Rating Administration’s “discriminatory” X rating “incredibly impaired” distribution. Maljack complained that many R-rated Hollywood films contained more graphic death and mutilation than Henry. MPAA replied that no amount of editing could correct the film’s “general tone” of nihilism. Victims are murdered in a casual manner and the serial killer is never punished. Limited to twenty theaters, Henry grossed only $270,000 in its early weeks of release.
       ... More Less

According to production notes in AMPAS library files and an article in the 4 Jan 1990 Boston Globe, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was shot on 16mm and originally converted to video for the MPI Home Video company as a planned "direct-to-video" release. However, MPI was disappointed by the film’s art house sensibility and lack of gore. A video copy premiered at the 1986 Chicago International Film Festival, but distributors who initially showed interest backed out because of competing video rights, fear of a lawsuit from a real serial killer who inspired the move, and the Motion Picture Association of America’s insistence on giving Henry an X rating, which would limit newspaper advertising and exhibitor deals.
       After playing occasionally as a “midnight movie” at Chicago’s Music Box Theater and screening once in New York City, the 16mm film was blown up to 35mm and presented at the September 1989 Telluride Film Festival. Though some attendees walked out, the audience responded favorably overall, and most critics raved, earning Henry a slot at the Boston Film Festival. After the film’s release in 1990, Maljack Productions sued the MPAA for $50,000, the 18 May 1990 HR reported, because its Code and Rating Administration’s “discriminatory” X rating “incredibly impaired” distribution. Maljack complained that many R-rated Hollywood films contained more graphic death and mutilation than Henry. MPAA replied that no amount of editing could correct the film’s “general tone” of nihilism. Victims are murdered in a casual manner and the serial killer is never punished. Limited to twenty theaters, Henry grossed only $270,000 in its early weeks of release.
       The 24 Sep 1990 HR noted that serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, whose confessions on a national television show inspired the filmmakers, declared from his death row cell in Texas, “Anyone who sees [the movie] is crazy.”
       MPI Home Video, the company that originally financed and then abandoned Henry, eventually released the film on video in 1990.
       Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was actor Michael Rooker’s first theatrical film. Along with fellow stars Tom Towles and Tracy Arnold, he was paid $2,000, according to the 19 May 1994 LAT.
       The film begins with a title card warning: “UNRATED. This motion picture is intended for individuals aged 17 and over. No individual under the age of 17 should view this movie without the presence of a parent or an adult gaurdian [sic].”
       End credits include multiple spellings of the names of the following cast/crew members: Jeffrey Lyle Segal/Jeffery Lyle Segal, and Frank Coranado/Frank Coronado.
       End credits include the following acknowledgments: “Excerpts from Becket courtesy of MPI Home Video,” and “Special thanks to: Lassens Tap, Homewood, IL; Chicago Police Department; The Mayor's Film Office, Chicago, IL; Neal Flynn; Alex Kerr; Greg Doyle; Kevin Dougherty; Larry Hart; Mike Sandlass; Wendy Sander; C. J. Kavooras; Midway Airport, Chicago, IL; Charles Michaels; Paul Petraitis; Cath Whitney; Tony the cop; Ferrer Talent, Chicago, IL; Steven Hager; James Marks family; Barb and Greg Sun; The Organic Theatre, Chicago, IL; Tommy Dubois; the Edward Dedmond family; Pat Thompson; Mic Fabus; Bob & Jeanette Jorgenson; Elizabeth Passman; Becky Passman; Laura Storto; James Young.”
       The 10 Sep 1989 Chicago Sun-Times reported that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was filmed around Chicago, IL’s Milwaukee Avenue and various back alleys during the winter of 1985-1886, on a $125,000 budget, using actors from the local Organic Theater Company. The 20 Apr 1989 Chicago Reader listed several locations: “Henry” and “Otis” live on North Street near Wood in Wicker Park; a drug deal takes place at New Trier West High School in Northfield; and a shooting murder of a motorist occurs on Lower Wacker Drive. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Boston Globe
4 Jan 1990.
---
Chicago Reader
20 Apr 1989.
---
Chicago Sun-Times
10 Sep 1989.
---
Chicago Tribune
16 Apr 1989
Section 13, p. 2
Daily Variety
5 Apr 1990
p. 10, 18
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1992
p.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1990
p. 4, 54
Hollywood Reporter
20 Apr 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1990
p. 1, 98
Hollywood Reporter
24 Sep 1990.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Apr 1990
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
19 May 1994
Section E, p. 1, 7
New York Times
23 Mar 1990
p. 12.
Rolling Stone
30 Nov 1989.
---
Variety
4 Oct 1989
p. 30.
Variety
10 Sep 1990
p. 3
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Maljack Productions Inc. Presents
A John McNaughton Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Cam asst
Still photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Storyboard artist
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Post prod supv
SET DECORATOR
Set dressing and props
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp by
Mus comp with
Mus comp with
Mus dir by
SOUND
Sd eff
Post prod sd ed
Post prod sd mixer
Asst post prod sd mixer
Post prod sd services provided by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Tech eff
Title des
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Spec eff makeup
Makeup eff crew
Makeup eff crew
Makeup eff crew
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Prod asst
Acting coach
Fight coord
SOURCES
SONGS
"Too Old For These Blues," T. K. Thady, performed by Kid Tater and The Cheaters
"LaLania," T. K. Thady, performed by Kid Tater and The Cheaters
"Lavalite Waltz," D. Haberkorn, performed by Dan Haberkorn
+
SONGS
"Too Old For These Blues," T. K. Thady, performed by Kid Tater and The Cheaters
"LaLania," T. K. Thady, performed by Kid Tater and The Cheaters
"Lavalite Waltz," D. Haberkorn, performed by Dan Haberkorn
"Waiting In The Garden," P. Blast, R. McNaughton, performed by Brisance
"Fingers On It," C. Z'Nuff/D.Vie, performed by Enough Z'Nuff
"Callin' Colleen," T. K. Thady, performed by Kid Tater and The Cheaters
"Don't You Know," M. Fabus/S. A. Jones, performed by Fawn
"Jukin'," T.K. Thady, performed by Kid Tater and The Cheaters
"There's Another Girl," T. K. Thady, performed by Kid Tater and The Cheaters
"Psycho," J. Roslie, performed by The Sonics ©1985 Etiquette Records
"Morning Dew," M. Fabus/R. Young, performed by Fawn
"My Mistake," R. Brandie/P. Petraitis, performed by Lynne and the Lizards."
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
April 1986
Premiere Information:
Chicago, IL, premiere: April 1986
35mm premiere in Telluride, CO: September 1989
Boston, MA, opening: January 1990
New York opening: 23 March 1990
Los Angeles opening: 18 April 1990
Production Date:
late 1985--early 1986
Copyright Claimant:
Fourth World Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
18 April 1989
Copyright Number:
PA412805
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
gauge
16mm
gauge
35mm
Duration(in mins):
83
Length(in feet):
7,336
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

The bodies of mostly young women are found in homes and alongside roads. A man and woman are shot to death in their store. In Chicago, Illinois, Henry sees a woman in a mall parking lot and follows her to a suburban home, but drives away when a man comes out of the house. He picks up a female hitchhiker carrying a guitar case. Meanwhile, at the airport, Otis picks up his sister, Becky, who has abandoned her abusive husband and left her daughter in her mother’s care. Becky tells Otis she plans to work as a waitress or beautician in Chicago, but does not want to go back to stripteasing. When Henry arrives home carrying a guitar case, Otis, his roommate, introduces him to Becky. Henry graciously offers Becky the spare bedroom. Henry has a job at a pest exterminating company, but because of sporadic work his boss cannot pay him full time. He gives Henry a red canister of insect spray and puts him on retainer. Henry returns to the suburban housewife he followed earlier and, with the canister strapped on his shoulder, talks his way into her home. He strangles her to death. Otis works at a gas station, where a high school student stops by to pay him in advance for drugs. When Otis returns home, Becky asks how he met Henry. Otis tells her they met in prison, where Henry was serving time for killing his mother and her lover with a baseball bat. Henry comes home and eats the fish supper Becky has prepared. When Otis leaves to take care of business, Becky plays cards with Henry. Discussing their families, both reveal a ... +


The bodies of mostly young women are found in homes and alongside roads. A man and woman are shot to death in their store. In Chicago, Illinois, Henry sees a woman in a mall parking lot and follows her to a suburban home, but drives away when a man comes out of the house. He picks up a female hitchhiker carrying a guitar case. Meanwhile, at the airport, Otis picks up his sister, Becky, who has abandoned her abusive husband and left her daughter in her mother’s care. Becky tells Otis she plans to work as a waitress or beautician in Chicago, but does not want to go back to stripteasing. When Henry arrives home carrying a guitar case, Otis, his roommate, introduces him to Becky. Henry graciously offers Becky the spare bedroom. Henry has a job at a pest exterminating company, but because of sporadic work his boss cannot pay him full time. He gives Henry a red canister of insect spray and puts him on retainer. Henry returns to the suburban housewife he followed earlier and, with the canister strapped on his shoulder, talks his way into her home. He strangles her to death. Otis works at a gas station, where a high school student stops by to pay him in advance for drugs. When Otis returns home, Becky asks how he met Henry. Otis tells her they met in prison, where Henry was serving time for killing his mother and her lover with a baseball bat. Henry comes home and eats the fish supper Becky has prepared. When Otis leaves to take care of business, Becky plays cards with Henry. Discussing their families, both reveal a hatred for their fathers. Becky’s father was violent and raped her. When she asks if he really killed his mother, Henry declares that he stabbed her to death because she made him wear a dress and watch her have sex with other men. Henry claims he killed her on his fourteenth birthday, but when he adds that he “shot her dead,” Becky reminds him that he first admitted stabbing her. “Oh yeah, I stabbed her,” Henry agrees. Becky gets a job as a shampoo girl at a beauty parlor. Later, at home, she becomes defensive when Otis jokes about her being a stripper. Becky tells Henry that she wore a costume and never danced nude. When Otis playfully grabs his sister and kisses her, Henry jerks Otis away from Becky and makes him apologize. Though angry at Henry, Otis agrees to go out and have a beer with him, so Becky can clean the apartment. Henry and Otis pick up a couple of prostitutes and park in an alley, with Henry in the back seat and Otis is front. Henry kills his partner, and when the woman with Otis screams, Henry breaks her neck. As Henry drives, Otis worries about being caught, but Henry assures him nothing will happen. Back home, Henry cannot believe these are the first murders Otis has seen, and hints that Otis has joined him in a brotherhood, whether he likes it or not. Fearful for his own life, Otis agrees. Henry puts an assuring arm around Otis and gets him a can of beer. Later, when Otis kicks in the screen of their old television, Henry takes him “shopping.” They go to a man who sells stolen items, but the “fence” is abusive toward them, so they kill him by smashing a television over his head, plugging it in, and electrocuting him. Along with a new television, Henry and Otis steal a video camera. Back at the apartment, they make home movies with Becky. The next day, Otis visits his parole officer, but after a couple of questions, the officer cuts the interview short because his son has a dental appointment. Otis drives to a high school to deliver drugs to the student who paid him earlier, but when Otis caresses the young man’s thigh, he gets punched in the face. The teenager runs away, leaving Otis cursing. When Otis tells Henry he wants to murder the kid, Henry explains that killing him would land Otis back in prison because people have seen them together. To avoid being caught, find victims that nobody can connect to you. Henry invites Otis to take a ride. Prowling the night streets in Henry’s car, he shows Otis his pistol. In an underpass, Henry stops the car, raises his hood, and flags down a young motorist. When the man steps out of his car, Henry tells Otis to shoot him. Otis fires three shots and kills the motorist. Driving away, Henry instructs Otis how to be a successful killer. He explains that you never kill people just one way, because police will establish a “modus operandi” and connect the killings. Never use the same gun twice, and always keep moving. Henry invites Otis to travel with him, with periodic stops back in Chicago when Otis is scheduled to meet with his parole officer. They drive to a house, bind a young married couple, and videotape the carnage. While Otis molests the mother, her young son enters, and before he can run, Henry breaks his neck. They kill the parents and return to their apartment to watch the home invasion on television. Otis plays the tape in slow motion. Meanwhile, at the beauty parlor, Becky telephones her mother to ask how her daughter is doing. She hopes to return home soon. Henry and Otis drive, looking for victims. Otis videotapes women, but as he leans out the window, something hits and breaks the camera. Disgusted, Otis throws the camera out the window. He wants to stop for a beer, so Henry drops him off and drives home. There, Becky tells Henry she has quit her job and plans to return home to her daughter tomorrow because Chicago is “too busy.” She invites Henry to accompany her, and says it is safe because her husband has been jailed for murder. Henry takes Becky out to dinner on his “new credit card,” and when they return, Otis is passed out and the home invasion video is playing in slow motion on the television. Henry stops it and pockets the tape cartridge before Becky sees what is on the screen. Becky takes Henry into her room and begins to seduce him, but Henry is uneasy. Suddenly, Otis interrupts them, giving Henry an excuse to pull away from Becky and go out for cigarettes. Henry sees a woman with a dog, and begins to follow her, but changes his mind. Returning home, he finds Otis raping Becky. When Henry knocks him off her, Otis smashes him in the head with a beer bottle and attacks him with the jagged bottle neck. Becky grabs a metal beautician’s comb with a sharp end and jabs it into Otis’s eye. As Otis writhes in agony, Henry picks up the comb and stabs him to death. The hysterical Becky wants to telephone police, but Henry orders her to shut up. He dismembers Otis’s body in the bathtub, and Becky helps him load a suitcase and plastic bags into his trunk. They drive to a river and dump the remains. Henry calms Becky’s fears and tells her they will have to keep moving. He has a sister in California who has an extra room, and they can send for Becky’s daughter when they get there. Becky pledges her love to Henry, and he replies, “I guess I love you, too.” That night they stop at a motel, but Henry avoids her attempts at intimacy. In the morning, Henry wakes up and shaves with a strait razor. He drives away from the motel alone. Later, he stops along a highway, pulls a large suitcase from the trunk, and dumps it in a ditch. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.