DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


John McNaughton
Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, Tom Towles
Writing Credits:
Richard Fire, John McNaughton

A drifter named Henry commits a series of brutal murders, apparently operating with impunity.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Uncompressed PCM 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 82 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 12/6/2016

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John McNaughton
• “In Defense of Henry” Featurette
• “Henry Vs. MPAA” Featurette
• “Henry at the BBFC” Featurette
• “It’s Either You or Them” Featurette
• “In the Round” Featurette
• “Portrait: The Making of Henry” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
• 1998 Interview with Writer/Director John McNaughton
• Trailers
• Still Gallery
• Storyboards


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer [Blu-Ray] (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 4, 2017)

A well-received film from 1986, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer focuses on the subject indicated in its title. We meet Henry (Michael Rooker), a drifter who casually murders wherever he goes.

Henry winds up in Chicago, where he spends time with former prison cellmate Otis (Tom Towles). Henry also gets to know Otis’s abused younger sister Becky (Tracy Arnold), and we follow these relationships, all while Henry continues to ply his violent trade.

Though I remember Portrait received a lot of attention for its harsh, cold depiction of its subject matter, I never saw the movie back in the 1980s. I don’t know why – the topic appeals to me, so I can’t recall why I didn’t view the film.

Now that I’ve seen it, I wish I’d seen Portrait back in 1986. I’d prefer to have been disappointed by it 30 years ago to spare myself the letdown now.

That said, I may have received Portrait differently if I’d checked it out when it first hit the screens. After all, we’ve gotten a slew of serial killer movies over the last 30 years, so Portrait may have seemed more powerful when fresh.

Nonetheless, I find it tough to view Portrait as much more than a standard horror film. Not that I think its creators aspired to much beyond that, as I don’t get the impression that felt they worked on a piece of art. As detailed in the set’s extras, Portrait came into existence as a cheap scary movie, so perhaps I shouldn’t judge it beyond that.

However, it seems others saw Portrait as harrowing and realistic, something beyond the usual 80s horror fare. Again, maybe I would’ve felt that way 30 years ago, but as of 2017, I find it difficult to view the material in that light – it usually simply seems like typical 80s material.

With one notable exception: a genuinely harrowing sequence in which Henry and Otis torment a couple and videotape their exploits. We view this via the recording, and that aspect adds verisimilitude to the scene. The attack on the couple feels real and becomes truly disturbing.

Unfortunately, this one segment essentially exists as an island amid a lot of material that fails to either seem realistic or pack an emotional punch. Portrait feels like a product of its era, as 80s trappings abound.

This means Portrait comes across as more stylized than I anticipated. I figured it’d give us a more stark, documentary-form experience, but instead, the film goes for a standard horror vibe much of the time.

Those elements date Portrait, especially via its score. With heavy synths that would be at home on a mid-80s Genesis album, the music never connects to the tale. Those audio elements do a lot to send the film down a stylized path that undercuts dramatic impact,

A lack of professional skill also becomes an issue – especially in terms of the actors. Rooker does acceptably well as Henry, but Towles and Arnold come across as awfully amateurish. They never seem like real people, and they play their parts in odd ways at times.

For instance, look at the scene where Becky discusses the incest in her past. Arnold delivers the sequence in an oddly bemused, unaffected way. You get the impression she looks back on how her dad wouldn’t buy her a Barbie, not on the ways he sexually abused her.

Portrait can be strangely unfocused. Take the sequence in which Becky wanders Chicago – none of this material needs to appear in the film. Even Becky’s job at a beauty parlor seems unnecessary, and the entire escapade simply takes the film off on a pointless tangent.

Other tonal issues occur. Portrait will be overly dramatic one moment and then suddenly shift to perky fun. None of this connects and flows, so the shifts in tone jolt the viewer.

I think the film’s biggest failing remains its lack of actual emotional force. Other than one disturbing scene, Portrait provides a silly effort that lacks scares or impact. I really want to like this movie but it does little for me.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus A-

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Given its low-budget 16mm roots, the image of Portrait came with inevitable issues but the transfer seemed to reproduce the source well.

Sharpness suffered due to the original material but usually worked fine. I’d be hard-pressed to cite shots that displayed terrific delineation, and the film could seem somewhat soft at times. That was an issue with the photography, though, and I felt that definition mostly seemed positive.

I witnessed no signs of shimmering or jaggies, and the image lacked edge haloes or related issues. With plenty of natural grain, the movie didn’t appear to come with digital noise reduction, and print flaws never became a problem, as the movie seemed clean.

Colors lacked great vivacity but appeared fine. The movie went with a fairly feel and image brought across the hues in a fairly appropriate manner. Like everything else, these tones didn’t excel, but they looked reasonably solid.

Blacks showed positive density. Occasionally they looked a bit too dark, but those instances weren’t frequent. Shadows could also be a little thick, but once again, that came from the original photography – and appeared to be intentional to suit the stylistic choices.

With a fair number of low-light nighttime shots, the action occasionally became tough to discern, but these shots were usually rendered well. Even with its inherent weaknesses, this was a satisfying presentation.

Adapted from the film’s original stereo mix – also presented on this Blu-ray – the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Portrait seemed mediocre. Don’t expect much from the expanded soundscape, as it failed to add a lot of breadth.

Music benefited the most from the added channels, as the score broadened to the side and rears in a fairly engaging manner. Effects offered less action, though, as they stayed limited in scope. I also thought dialogue bled to the sides too often, and that created occasional distractions.

Audio quality appeared erratic. Some speech sounded fairly natural, while other lines came across as thin and edgy. The material remained intelligible, at least.

Music boasted fairly good range and oomph, but effects appeared less convincing. Those elements tended to sound somewhat dull and bland. In the end, the mix worked well enough for a “C” but it suffered from obvious inconsistencies.

This “30th Anniversary” Blu-ray provides a mix of extras, and these begin with an audio commentary from writer/director John McNaughton. Along with moderator David Gregory, McNaughton discusses the project's origins and development, sets and locations, story/character and inspirations, music, cast and performances, budgetary concerns and related subjects.

Overall, McNaughton gives us a good look at the film. As prodded by Gregory, he goes over a broad array of subjects and does so in an effective manner. This leads to an informative commentary.

A mix of featurettes follow. In Defense of Henry lasts 20 minutes, 43 seconds and offers notes from Northwestern University associate professor Jeffrey Sconce, filmmakers Joe Swanberg and Errol Morris, author/film critic Joe Bob Briggs and film critic Kim Morgan. They offer interpretation and appreciation for the movie. Though oriented toward praise, “Defense” still provides some informative notes.

For ratings issues, we go to Henry Vs. MPAA. It runs 10 minutes, 52 seconds and looks at all the problems the film had in terms of its MPAA rating. The show gives us a pretty nice summary of these topics.

In a similar vein, we get the 27-minute, 25-second Henry at the BBFC. This one includes info from Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower, as he discusses the censorship of the 80s in the UK and its impact on Portrait. Thrower delivers a positive encapsulation of these issues, especially when we get a side-by-side comparison of the changes forced on Portrait.

Next comes It’s Either You or Them, an eight-minute, 43-second interview with artist Joe Coleman. He talks about the movie and the poster he created for it. Much of the piece feels self-serving and not especially informative – and I think anyone who believes biting the head off of a live animal equals “art” is an abhorrent human being, so there’s that, too.

In the Round takes up 28 minutes, five seconds and brings us another interview with McNaughton. He talks about his life and career, with some emphasis on Portrait. McNaughton touches on areas largely not discussed in the commentary, so this becomes a nice expansion of that piece.

After this we get a documentary called Portrait: The Making of Henry. It runs 52 minutes, 35 seconds and gives us info from McNaughton, co-producer/co-composer Steven A. Jones, co-writer Richard Fire, art director Rick Paul, costume designer Patricia Hart, director of photography Charlie Lieberman, composers Robert McNaughton and Ken Hale, editor Elena Maganini, filmmaker Chuck Parello, and actors Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold and Lisa Temple

“Making” digs into the movie’s origins and development, script, story and characters, cast and performances, cut sequences, McNaughton’s directorial style, budgetary challenges, music, editing, and aspects of the film’s release. Some of this material appears elsewhere, but the added perspectives gives “Making” a good spin and makes it worthwhile.

A compilation of Deleted Scenes and Outtakes occupies 21 minutes, 25 seconds. These lack their original audio, so they come with commentary from McNaughton and Gregory. The director tells us where the sequences fell in the film and what occurred during them.

The absence of dialogue limits their utility, but McNaughton manages to inform us about their content reasonably well. Still, I find them less than interesting because we don’t get a good sense of how they’d play – without audio, we can’t really feel what formal impression they’d have left.

A 1998 Interview with Writer/Director John McNaughton takes up 30 minutes, 44 seconds. In this piece, McNaughton goes over his early interest in movies and what led him to the field, the development of Portrait, casting, sets/locations, and other production areas.

On its own, the 1998 chat works fine. However, with all the other features on this disc, it mainly becomes redundant. While the interview throws in a few new nuggets, it usually feels repetitive.

In addition to two Trailers, we find both a Still Gallery and Storyboards. The former offers 45 images, while the latter gives us 81 screens of art. Both provide interesting material.

Though Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer boasts a reputation as a brutal drama, it seems more like a perfunctory horror film to me. Despite a few harrowing moments, the movie lacks much real bite. The Blu-ray presents reasonably good audio along with adequate audio and a strong batch of bonus materials. I like this release but as a film, Portrait disappoints

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
0 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main