There will always be controversy when making a film about (or relating to) a real life serial killer. Most of the time this will get in the way of the point that the film is trying to get across. In the case of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, it just amplifies the fact that referring to such a strong and unsettling subject can be a pulled off in a way that the public can respect and, to an extent, understand. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer wasn't made to glorify the actions of serial killing; it was made to be a case study in a way; to show the viewer the untapped mind of a man in a desperate mental situation. The main aspect that truly makes this film shine is the fact that Henry is just as cold and calculated in his killings as Norman Bates is in Psycho. Both unstable and both seemingly conscious of their actions.
What has priority in this film is the simplicity of the plot and storyline. It's not here to fool the viewer nor is it a film that has the viewer guessing either. There is no sub-plot, nothing unsuspecting ready to leap out of the dark at you. Everything is given to you at the start of the film and is carried throughout. Nothing is taken from it and to a slight disappointment nothing added. Great film though this is, it is let down by it's lack of character depth and development. As I stated, it is all served up at the start and from then on the characters are not subjected to enough maturity. However you only really start to want a greater depth when the movie is over, and then it is not to a great extent. You would think that only having three main roles in the film would mean the progression of the characters would be more important, as to make up for the lack of others, in this case it isn't.
The greatest aspect to this film is the calmed and calculated acting on the behalf of Michael Rooker. The role of Henry needed someone who had the build to overpower and kill, but the looks that no jury would convict. Michael Rooker fitted perfectly into this role. As with all serial killers, Henry's character is a master manipulator too. His partner in crime, Otis (played by Tom Towles) is subjected to Henry's ways for one thing only, to get what the killer is after. Tom Towles goes to show that playing a down-and-out loser against a seemingly conformed member of society can have its advantages. His acting is not muted against Rookers, as you might expect, but amplified. Unfortunately Tracy Arnold's character of Becky is not on the screen for long enough. She was a delight to watch, and very amusing to see her in the admiration of Henry.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of those films which is in a league of it's own but also one that can be compared with others of the same standing. Films like American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange and Psycho all have killers that are, for the most part, scarce of a motive. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is no exception. He goes out, kills, and then goes for a celebratory beer. It is all part of his normal way of living. The idea of his normal way of living is carried through into the very end, which has to be said, is very good. He just pulls up on the edge of the highway, deposits the bag with the dead body in and is on his way. Of course at first this ending leaves you feeling that you have been cheated, that there needs to be more. But in the same way as the conclusion of The Blair Witch Project, you realize that you don't need more. You can either figure it out for yourself or leave it as good as it is.
This film is like the numerous serial killer movies that we have seen before and will again. The one thing that sets Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer apart from the rest is director John McNaughton's added shock factor. Whether that factor is the video camera they use to film the murders; the blatant disregard of their emotions; the way it all appears to be normal to them; the fact that this is more of a documentary than a story; or if it is a combination of all of those, will never be certain. Whatever it is it has definitely worked. This is a wonderful film - both provocative and artistic, but those reasons it won't appeal to everybody's tastes.