Can you believe that there’s actually a sequel to John McNaughton’s cult masterpiece HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER? I mean, I vaguely remember it from the peak of the VHS boom when direct-to-video sequels to horror hits were a very common and lucrative thing. But up until this last week, I completely forgot about this film’s existence until I did a search for the original and realized that the fine fiends over at Dark Sky Films (who put out the original on both Blu-Ray and DVD) also issued a DVD of PART 2.
The notorious HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER has earned its place in the annals of horror cinematic history as one of the most controversial, shocking and well-crafted debuts from any director. This was John McNaughton’s first narrative feature! And it starred this fresh faced guy named Michael Rooker as Henry, along with genre character actor Tom Towles in the role of Otis. The two were loosely based upon real life serial killers and murdering duo Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole and it still remains one of those mandatory genre movies you just have to see for yourself.
It was originally shot on 16mm film back in 1985 for a mere $110,000 in 28 days and although it debuted at the Chicago International Film Festival a year later, it didn’t get a proper release until 1990 in its original X rated format. Despite the controversy, the film was widely well reviewed, which included a ringing endorsement and “two thumbs up” from Siskel & Ebert. At the time of its release, Rooker was well on his way as a Hollywood regular character actor with appearances in films such as SEA OF LOVE, DAYS OF THUNDER and JFK.
I’m not sure why, but 6 years later in 1996, 11 years after HENRY was filmed, a sequel went into production under the helm of Chuck Parello, known for his other serial killer movie adaptations ED GEIN and THE HILLSIDE STRANGLER. My guess is the first one did so well on video that it warranted this direct-to-video sequel. But when it comes to making a feature about real life people and their atrocities, it requires a certain level of tact. McNaughton exhibited artistry in that first film despite the horrific subject matter, and executed an experience that launched the auteur’s filmography with confidence and style.
Sadly, Michael Rooker does not return for HENRY 2, although it would’ve been fascinating to see him reprise the role nearly a decade after originating it. Instead, he’s played here by Neil Giuntoli, who looks similar enough to Rooker for it to pass as a proper follow-up. Also, savvy horror fans take note – back in 1988, Giuntoli played Eddie Caputo in CHILD’S PLAY, Charles Lee Ray’s partner in crime that abandoned him that fateful night at the toy store when he became Chucky! So at least he’s got genre cred.
Picking up immediately after the conclusion of the first movie, Henry is bouncing around from homeless shelter to shelter and town to town. He eventually lands a job at a port-o-john company run by husband and wife team Kai (Rich Komenich) and Cricket (Kate Walsh). The couple takes pity on the seemingly harmless and soft spoken Henry and they offer him a place to stay in their home. After developing a bit of a friendship, Kai lets Henry in on a little secret. He’s an arsonist that is hired to torch properties down in order for the owners to collect the insurance money. And if he wants to earn good cash, he can help him on his upcoming jobs.
Although Kai claims to take no pleasure in the act of doing what he does, he soon comes around to Henry’s way of thinking when they stumble upon two drifter kids hiding out in one of their targeted buildings. In order to leave no witnesses, Henry murders one and forces Kai to murder the other boy. Once it begins, Kai, in essence, slowly becomes Henry’s replacement for Otis and the two continue on a random murdering rampage, just as mean spirited and disturbing as we saw in the first film.
When looked at as just a nasty horror film, it might be easy to take this dark ride as some form of entertainment, but knowing that this guy was based in part in truth makes it a very difficult watch. The first one is the same, but it also didn’t feel quite as exploitive as this sequel does, which let’s face it – simply exists to be a cash crab and not for any real artistic merit.
Sure, that might be a harsh criticism, but I fell down the rabbit hole of reading up on the real life crimes that inspired these films, hoping that maybe they left something out of the first movie and hence this was an attempt to be more “accurate” to the real story, but alas that’s not the case. The only thing this sequel “borrows” from real life is that there was a period where Otis was an arsonist.