Henry is based loosely on the Henry Ray Lucas confessions. Lucas had confessed to killing around 300 people after being caught. The movie never claims to directly reflect any of those acts. Instead it takes the idea behind his life and turns it into a fictional story. Henry (Michael Rooker) is a nomad wandering from town to town. When in Chicago, Henry stays with his friend and former prisoner Otis (Tom Towles). This time when Henry hits the Chi-town, Otis has his sister Becky(Tracy Arnold) staying with him. Becky finds Henry to be a gentleman and perhaps the solution to her loneliness.
One night while out and about, Henry and Otis pick up some prostitutes. In the process of completing their service, one of the prostitutes is quite loud and Henry chokes her to death. Having to act quickly, Otis is forced to help Henry kill the other one. Otis finds that he like the killing and wants Henry to show him how to do it so he won't be caught. This sets up some fascinating and true observations from Henry about the art of murder. Such as, you have to keep moving and never kill anyone you would have a motive for killing.
The killing escalates and soon finds Otis losing his grip on reality completely. The third act delves into the the relationship amongst the three. You do get a sense of where it will go from little hints along the way. A tight 83 minutes means that this film never has a chance to drag.
Rooker is quite good here as the title character. Listening to the commentary from director John McNaughton, you learn that Rooker was basically the third choice for the part. The only way they found him was that he was friends with someone on the crew. Towles is a veteran actor whom most will recognize from his parts in the Rob Zombie films. The movie rests squarely on their shoulders since in essence there is only 3 characters.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer caused quite a bit of controversy when it finally got released. By today's standards, it is quite tame. But the acts of violence are quite startling because of the randomness. Rooker portrays Henry as a ruthless machine incapable of being normal for extended periods of time without being able to act out his rage. I found that I appreciated this film more the second time through without being burdened by the initial shock of the plot. An interesting watch and a nice lesson on low budget filmmaking. With just a $100,000 budget to work with, McNaughton manages to craft a chilling tale of just how scary humanity can be at it's worst.