Part 8 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.
One of the most celebrated “sick” movies in recent years, partially because when the filmmakers submitted it to the MPAA board the film was condemned with an X purely for its “unacceptable moral tone.” Whether or not the X was deserved in terms of the standard belief that the rating defines pornography, there can still be no doubt that Henry is definitely hard core in its merciless examination of the life and crimes of a serial killer.
Directed by John McNaughton and starring Michael Rooker, the film was made in 1986, but had little commercial exposure until its videocassette release in 1990. The film was shot on a very low budget in Chicago. The story line brings us directly into the boring, lower-middle-class life of a young man named Henry. The sort of guy you wouldn’t mind having a beer with once in a while or baby-sitting your kids on short notice. Trouble is, the only way he knows how to enjoy himself sexually is torturing, raping, and snuffing women. The film opens with the ghastly aftereffects of a bloody murder; the film ends with Henry casually disposing of his latest victim in a moist suitcase by the side of the road.
Though it is far from a wall-to-wall bloodbath, what makes Henry so goddamn chilling is the technical quality of the production. The direction, script, and acting are all first-rate. For once, the filmmakers were deadly serious in their endeavor to make us all react personally as voyeuristic accomplices to the most violent depths of sociopathic behavior. And they succeed completely—everyone at one time or another has met someone who looks or acts on the surface just like Henry. That’s the first moment at which we’re terrified by what we’re seeing: Henry is a cracked mirror held too close to our own darkest reflections.