Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986, John McNaughton)

Made before found footage movies became standard, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is almost a found footage film. It has some of the characteristics: a first person look at the characters, acting rather biographical and up front and personal. Henry is a mass murdering psychopath who happens to hook up with Otis and his sister, two people who really have no idea who he is or what he is doing. Slowly though Otis uncovers the truth, and instead of running away chooses to become Henry’s disciple and engage in killing and mayhem.

Few horror films have ever been, to quote the great horror critic Bleeding Critic, “Damaging,” not to mention absolutely brutal and unrelenting. In fact my one criticism of this film is that by the end you so numb to what happened that the damage has already been done, that the film is spinning its wheels by the final shot. That’s rather disturbing, although that criticism was my same issue with another cult horror film/drama classic, Man Bites Dog, which came along later and was probably in many ways influenced by Henry. In the case of Henry the film is helped greatly by Michael Rooker’s disturbing and stark, brilliant and unflinching performance which is the dark heart of this film.

Still there are plenty of nasty and brutal scenes to be found, chief among them the murder of a family that Otis chooses to document, a moment that is defiantly found footage style material. The worst part about that entire scene though is that Otis not only captured every horrible detail, but that he chooses to rewind and watch all of what him and Henry did all over again. That is beyond the pale-two men who have no conscience, no remorse for what they have done. Since both Henry and Otis were real people its quite chilling to think about if your next door neighbor is really a homicidal manic who will kill you and those you love without even thinking twice.

Could elements of this movie have been pure fiction? Sure, as Hollywood has a legacy of bending facts for dramatic impact. What cannot be denied though is that Henry did murder endless numbers of people, and that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a window into his black soul. Henry can be seen as a shark, a creature of habit that killed for no reason, moving from place to place, staying ahead of the authorities hunting him. Films like this one cover real life monsters that get the viewer too close, like being able to wander into the lion cage at the zoo or being in a shark cage in the shark tank as a great white circles past.

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Slither (2006)

8.    Slither (2006, James Gunn)

After years of putting this movie off I finally decided to see what all of the fuss was about and finally watched it one or two Horrorfests ago. Needless to say I get why people love this movie so much (and I’m now included in their company): its gross, really darkly funny, and incredibly entertaining. Slither exists as a throwback to films such as Night of the Creeps while also channeling Shivers, two equally disgusting movies about creepy bug creatures invading people’s brains and turning them into brain dead zombies. In Slither’s case the aliens are from outer space, popping out of a meteor and infecting the town’s local millionaire-Grant Grant, wonderfully played by famous character actor Michael Rooker-which leads to him infecting others in the process since he ends up becoming a mutated beast. Things just get progressively worse from there, and the rest of the movie features the town’s sheriff (endlessly dependable Nathan Fillion) and Grant Grant’s wife (the lovely Elizabeth Banks) trying to end the infestation.

As great as Fillion is in this movie-his sheriff is equal parts humorous and completely bewildered by the situation-its really Gregg Henry’s slick mayor who has some of the movie’s best lines. “Bitch is hardcore” is one of my favorites, among others; hell I could quote most of the entire movie. Not too many films succeed in combing comedy with horror, and Slither pulls that feat off really well. Especially in the scene where Fillion fights a deer: you just have to see it to believe it. Its a shame that this movie was not a box office hit, especially since its so well made and is a blast to watch. Hopefully more people seek out this movie on DVD and Blu Ray, although I would not recommend watching this while eating. The monster version of Grant Grant is enough to cause some people to vomit. Some horror movies really are not for the faint of heart.

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