Monday, October 18, 2010

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2 - Mask of Sanity (a film review)

I am a little surprised by my feelings for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer II: Mask of Sanity (written and directed by Chuck Parello, who also directed the serial killer docudramas 2000’s Ed Gein and 2004’s The Hillside Stranglers) because I actually love, love, love this movie. Not to say that the movie is great; it is far from it. “It’s so bad, it’s good” applies here. Not in the sequel-tard-tastic level of something like Exorcist II: The Heretic, but yeah… purdy bad.

Next to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 original – forget the remake), one of my favorite “horror” films is John McNaughton’s masterpiece Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. I even wrote about it in the book "Horror 101: The A-List of Horror Films and Monster Movies". [available at] And because of my loyal lust for the original, I should be wagging my finger at this 10 year follow up. There is something about this movie, though, that fascinates me.

Everybody’s favorite stick and bindle serial killer Henry decides to gets a j-o-b cleaning and distributing portable potties, after witnessing a male rape at a homeless shelter. He ends up staying with his married co-workers Kai (Rich Komenich) and Cricket (Kate Walsh from Grey’s Anatomy) until he can get back on his feet. It’s really a portrait of a struggling lower class family for the first half of the film, complete with jean jackets and relentless drinking/smoking coping mechanisms. Kai is later revealed to be a “firebug” in that he is contracted out to set businesses on fire for the insurance money. Henry soon gets involved in the arson side project, and a “folie a deux” relationship is formed, much like Henry and Otis Toole in the original. One feeds off the other, and the other fuels the fire of murder and mayhem. Soon, Henry and Kai are murdering innocents in order to feel alive and relieve stress after a shitty day at the port-o-john business.

The quirkiest part of the plot involves Cricket’s niece Louisa (played by Kari Levinson, who after this role, didn’t returned to film until 11 years later. I like to think of this as a career-ending performance.) Louisa is a clinically depressed, suicidal, and emo - but without the cool outfits and bangs. She recognizes and appreciates the outsider in Henry and starts getting clingy, but Henry doesn’t like the baggage. In fact, he usually chops up interested women and discards them in baggage on the side of the road (see: the original).

The best exchange of the film is when Louisa is showing Henry her art (which all looks like the disturbed sketches from a bored and doodling Clive Barker), and she hands him a blank canvas and a pencil in order to draw. After 1 minute, he hands her back his completed drawing, and we get the only explanation from his childhood that may explain his serial killerness.

Louisa - “Hey this is good, I like it!”

Henry - “Really?”


“It’s a mule I had when I was a kid. I called him Rocks. On account of he used to eat rocks. He wasn’t right in the head, but he was still my favorite animal.”

LOL. This, along with super-fake fight and kill scenes, and the steely deadpan delivery of Henry’s lines, just seal the deal for me.

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