close [×]

Dear Flixster Community,

After seven fabulous years with you all, we are sorry to let you know that we're going to be retiring the Flixster Community site on September 30, 2014. Please note that you can still access your ratings, reviews, and quizzes on Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes using your same login. We have had so much fun building this community with you.

Thanks for all the memories,

Get movie widget Recommend it Add to Favorites

Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold, David Katz, Flo Spink ... see more see more... , Eric Young , Rick Paul , Waleed B. Ali

Though the title makes Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer seem like a cut-rate slasher flick, the film is actually one of the most disturbing and terrifying examinations of mass murderers ever filmed.... read more read more... Loosely based on the story of confessed murderer Henry Lee Lucas, the film follows Henry (Michael Rooker) as he selects innocent victims--occasionally with his roommate Otis (Tom Towles)--and kills them, capturing their murder on videotape. Many of these murders rank among the most brutal and violent ever portrayed on film. The violence and the clinical, detached portrayal of Henry and his horrifying actions make Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer a disturbing, thought-provoking film, but it certainly isn't one for every taste. Finished in 1986, the film wasn't released until 1990, when it was greeted with both positive reviews and considerable controversy. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Flixster Users

72% liked it

10,889 ratings


88% liked it

50 critics

NC-17, 1 hr. 30 min.

Directed by: John McNaughton

Release Date: September 24, 1986

Invite friends to see

DVD Release Date: November 17, 1998

Stats: 1,006 reviews

Your Rating

clear rating

Flixster Reviews (1,006)

  • January 21, 2014
    The invention of the NC-17 rating was a big controversy in the eighties, and this film instigated the debate thanks to its scenes of brutality and murder at the hands of serial killer Henry (Rooker). Released four years after it was made amid controversy, "Henry" remains a pivota... read morel film in horror and changed the filming of psychosis and showed a serial killer in his environment for the very first time. By today's standards this isn't as bad as the torture porn that has recently become a trend, and definitely not as gory as it seemed at the time, but it's still freaky. Henry is still a very sadistic and creepy serial killer, and Rooker gives a performance that still chills to this day. The revelation that he feels bad for his friend's sister (Arnold) and that he can express empathy was also a new concept, since serial killers are often villainized by popular media. Henry is the real father of today's lovable killer, "Dexter", and that show owes much to this early film.
  • October 30, 2013
  • June 27, 2013
    Loosely based on the life of Henry Lee Lucas, this is a raw, gritty and overall savage character study of a serial killer. This is a film that is brilliantly directed by John McNaughton, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a disturbing picture that will definitely make you feel... read more uneasy from start to finish. The movie is unflinching in its realism, and is not for the faint of heart. In terms of horror, this is one of the finest movies in the psychological horror genre. The cast deliver some impressive performances, especially Michael Rooker in a captivating and truly demented performance as the film's antagonist, Henry. Horror fans looking for a truly unique and uneasy genre picture will surely enjoy this movie, and for anyone looking for a well crafted and realistic horror yarn, this is one to watch. The movie is powerful in the sense that it can make you feel horrified, uncomfortable, and disturbed all at once, and is a rare horror film, especial this decade due to the fact that cinemas were overfilling with countless Slasher films, which are quite entertaining, but never achieved a sense of what a film like this could have pulled off. This is a horror film with a plot, and it successfully creates terror by its atmosphere and visuals as well as the performance of its lead actor. Like I said, Slashers are a mindless horror fun for the most part, that focuses on ridiculous kill sequences to create the carnage. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer on the other hand delivers some of the most truly disturbing images in horror history and you simply can't tear yourself away from such a movie. The film is a back to basics horror picture that doesn't use anything ridiculous to create the terror, the notion that is based on a real life serial killer is horrifying enough.
  • September 7, 2012
    three stars
  • May 19, 2012
    Yes, the acting was brilliant from Rooker and it was an involving story but it just seemed to drag and some of the performances were horrendous. There were many times when I just wanted to turn it off and at the end I felt like I had sort of wasted my time as there was no change ... read morefrom the start of the movie. More people were murdered and Henry just kept on doing what he did with no remorse. I'm not suggesting that Henry should have been caught or 'turned around', I just wanted more than to see him drive off with no consequences.
  • October 10, 2011
    Henry: Guns are easy to get... I can make a phone call and get a gun. Anybody can get a gun, Otis.†

    "He's not Freddy. He's not Jason. He's real."

    Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a dirty, raw and dark film. It isn't anything like the average slasher. This wasn't made for f... read moreun and it isn't fun; it's disturbing. The film makes live an everyday life of a serial killer. The movie wasn't quite as graphic as I thought it would be, but it's still in your face. There are murders and rapes, disgusting moments and chilling moments. The movie reminds me of a more serious Man Bites Dog.†

    We are thrown into Henry's life. Henry has already been to jail; he killed his mother; with a knife, no with a baseball bat, or wait was it a gun. I don't know because Henry doesn't even know. That gives some pretty deep insight into the psyche of this man. He's an illiterate, who came from an abusive upbringing and he has mommy issues. He's the very description of a serial killer. He can't get close to anyone and he definitely can't love anyone.†

    The movie doesn't really have a plot. If I had to give it one though, I would say it's basically Henry killing and then also teaching his pal, Otis, to kill also. He also gets into a bit of a relationship with Otis' sister. That's about as deep as the movie goes plot wise, but it goes very deep into the psyche of a serial killer and puts some chilling ideas and images into the viewers mind. The last scene of this movie was one of the more chilling scenes I have seen; not because it shows us anything, but because it doesn't. It makes for a perfect ending.†

    Henry... isn't really a movie meant to be watched as pure entertainment or for fun. Nothing about it says, "Like me." But it is very good at what it's trying to do. In my eyes this is sort of an Anti-Slasher. All the other slashers do is have chase scenes followed by violent murders. Slashers are normally meant to not be taken seriously and try to be fun, just in a violent way. Henry... is the opposite. The point isn't to entertain and the violence isn't what it is trying to sell. It's powerful, scary stuff. People like this are roaming our streets. Real life is always scarier than a huge, supernatural, moron like Jason.
  • September 18, 2011
    Now this is what low budget horror is all about people! A remorseless killer, plastic heads with corn syrup blood and senseless murder after senseless murder, with no retribution in sight! A truly amazing piece of cinema that has survived the test of time for one reason and one r... read moreeason only - it is one of the best low budget horror movies ever made.
  • fb619846742
    August 6, 2011
    An unflinching look at an emotionless serial killer, loosely based on a true story, in which director John McNaughton takes a look at a killer through detached lenses, and the result is something horrifying and truly haunting. Although it never reaches the heights of being a "gre... read moreat" film (more dialogue and development of the relationship between Henry and Otto could have been added), this is a terrifying film experience, and it is all because of McNaughton's minimalist effort to his entire project, capitalized by a simple, scary turn from lead star Michael Rooker (his finest performance, without question). Sometimes I like movies to get inside the characters' heads and to give us more development in certain areas, and there are certain times when I felt 'Henry' needed more work. However, you have to give McNaughton credit for never overstepping his emotional bounds, and not drifting into a serial killer movie such as, say "Mr. Brooks", which goes too far into the psychological and "emotional high" element of the killing process - this one gets it just right, and it is fascinating as well as scarring.
  • June 27, 2011
    I haven't seen Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in a while and maybe my priorities have shifted since the last time I've seen it, but this is a seriously skeevy movie. It also seems way more disturbing (the home invasion footage scene was particularly hard to shake) this time a... read moreround but despite the low budget Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a very powerful and intensely gritty movie. A rough but very worthwhile watch.
  • May 1, 2011
    I watched this film again with a group of my friends who had never seen it Instead of the whooping, hollering and cheering that accompanied most of the other movies we watched together, Henry was met with a deathly silence. Its gritty and gripping tale was so different, so fresh,... read more and just so plain nasty, that my friends were lost for words.

    Even today, Henry still has the power to render the viewer speechless, such is the brilliance of the direction and performances in this powerful and shocking movie.

    Recently released from prison, murderer Henry (Michael Rooker) is earning a meagre living as a bug exterminator; in his spare time, however, he prefers to seek out bigger prey, committing a series of indiscriminate murders in a variety of grisly ways. On a night out with ex-prison-mate, and now flat-mate, Otis (Tom Towles), Henry slips into full-on murder mode, doing away with a couple of hookers, and ends up recruiting his impressionable friend as a willing accomplice to his extra-curricular activities.

    Between spraying roaches and teaching Otis the secrets to being a successful serial killer, Henry also forms an unlikely relationship with Otis' sister, Becky (who is staying with her brother, after leaving her violent husband). But when sexual deviant Otis takes the idea of brotherly love a little too far, Henry steps in with devastating consequences for all.

    Director John McNaughton shows that he means business from the very start by opening his film on a slow reveal of a naked female corpse, which has been dumped unceremoniously in some shallow water. Several gruesome bodies later (including one of a woman with a broken bottle jammed in her face) and the audience know that they're in for a rough ride. This film doesn't intend to make murder glamorous; it means to show the ugly side of killing in every nauseating detail. The result is a truly haunting experience that will stay with the viewer long after the film has finished.

    As the film progresses, the levels of violence escalate, and the unflinchingly graphic manner in which the depravity is captured make this one of the most harrowing studies of psychotic behaviour ever filmed. McNaughton's sparing use of his unsettling score, coupled with some particularly stylish and clever storytelling techniques (most noticeably, the ferocious 'house invasion' scene, which I believe to be a big influence the effectively sickening August Underground pseudo-snuff movies) make this a chilling character study that pulls no punches: nihilistic and disturbingly graphic, the film presents violent death without the glossy veneer that would be present in a Hollywood production.Highly Recommended

Critic Reviews

Jay Boyar
August 12, 2013
Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel

The film is an honest and disturbing attempt to come to grips with the sort of modern horror that we must -- more urgently every day -- try to understand. Full Review

Desmond Ryan
August 12, 2013
Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer

The difference between John McNaughton's incredibly chilling film and the usual serving of screen carnage is the difference between the mind of a murderer and the cynical and manipulative depiction of... Full Review

Terrence Rafferty
August 12, 2013
Terrence Rafferty, New Yorker

Sure, it's compelling; the nature of the material guarantees that. But it doesn't seem to be telling us much more than that the world is a scary place and murder is ugly. We knew those things. This is... Full Review

Sheila Benson
August 12, 2013
Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is as fine a film as it is a brutally disturbing one. Full Review

Dave Kehr
August 12, 2013
Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune

McNaughton's direction combines a strict social realism with a cool, Fritz Langian sense of pre-determination, while his work with actors has the improvisational freshness of a John Cassavetes. Full Review

Jonathan Rosenbaum
October 20, 2008
Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Certainly not for everyone, but if slasher movies are your cup of tea this is a lot better than most, and the use of Chicago locations is especially effective. Full Review

Daniel M. Kimmel
April 16, 2007
Daniel M. Kimmel, Variety

[T]his is a movie that will anger and frighten audiences... Many will also find this one of the most impressive film debuts of the '80s. Full Review

June 24, 2006
Time Out

McNaughton's compelling study of a blithe sociopath makes the flesh crawl and the mind reel. Full Review

Caryn James
May 20, 2003
Caryn James, New York Times

Mr. McNaughton's observations are so chilling and precise that they gain some artistic stature even when they cross the line that makes the audience voyeurs and accomplices. Full Review

Peter Travers
May 12, 2001
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

This film gives off a dark chill that follows you all the way home.

Critic ratings and reviews powered by

Fresh (60% or more critics rated the movie positively)

Rotten (59% or fewer critics rated the movie positively)

More Like This

Click a thumb to vote on that suggestion, or add your own suggestions.

  • The Devil's Rejects
    The Devil's Rejects (100%)
  • Black Christmas
    Black Christmas (50%)
  • The Hitcher
    The Hitcher (0%)
  • Audition (‘dishon)
    Audition (‘dishon) (80%)


    • Becky Otis's Sister: Oh, wh-what was he in for?
    • Otis: You don't want to know.
    • Becky Otis's Sister: What did he do-- kill his mama?
    • Otis: Uh, huh.
    • Becky Otis's Sister: Come on, what was he in for?
    • Otis: You don't want to know.
    • Becky Otis's Sister: What did he do, rob a bank or something?
    • Otis: You were right the first time.
    • Becky Otis's Sister: Huh?
    • Otis: You were right the first time. He killed his mama. Don't you ever tell him I told you.
    • Becky Otis's Sister: I love you, Henry.
    • Henry: I guess I love you too.
    • Henry: Otis, plug it in!
    • Otis: (his video camera breaks, while filming outside the car window) - Look what you did! Oh, god! Oh, Jesus! Look at it, it's ruined! Damn, Henry you ought to look where you're driving!
    • Henry: Who the hell told you, to stick your head out the window anyway?
    • Otis: You could of killed me!
    • Henry: Sure. Blame it on me!
    • Otis: Oh, this fu*king camera! [Otis throws the video camera out the car window]
    • Henry: What did you do that for?
    • Otis: It wasn't any good anymore.
    • Henry: Could have fixed it.
    • Otis: Sh*t, the lens was busted right off!
    • Henry: Could have fixed it!
    • Otis: How do you know? You a camera repair man? ...You should have said something.
    • Henry: You threw the fu*ker right out the window!
    • Becky Otis's Sister: I don't want to talk about Leroy!
    • Otis: Okay, we don't have to talk about him! You hungry?
    • Becky Otis's Sister: Yeah.
    • Otis: Good, I'm hungry too. I wonder if Leroy's hungry. (laughs)
    • Henry: Guns are easy to get. I can make a phone call and get a gun. Anybody can get a gun, Otis.

Henry: Portrait o... : Watch Free on TV

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Trivia

Movie Quizzes

No quizzes for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Want to create one?

Video Clips

No video clips yet. Want to upload one?

Recent News

No recent headlines. Got one?

Recent Lists

Most Popular Skin