Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Rating: B+

Dir: John McNaughton
Star: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

A landmark movie in many ways, this was a silk purse from a low-budget sow’s ear. The producers (one of whom cameos as a store clerk) wanted a serial-killer flick: McNaughton, with the immense help of Michael Rooker as Henry, unflinchingly depicted the bottom rung of white-trash life. It’s low-key, concentrating on the causes and effects of violence as much as the act itself, save for the infamous video-camera sequence, which turned the BBFC into film editors. The only law enforcement figure is a harried probation officer, seen once, giving the feeling there’s no safety net.

In his film debut, Rooker is brilliant, creepily normal yet absolutely inhuman, and with a sly cunning which lets him get away with his murders. Towles is, if anything, more unpleasant: only Tracy Arnold, as Becky, exhibits much in the way of humanity. There are sluggish moments, and the lack of morality is more numbing than disturbing, yet it’s perhaps the last classic horror of the 1980’s boom.