Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Movies

Portraits of Henry

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

In 1986, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was released, directed by John McNaughton and based loosely on the life and crimes of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole (although Ottis dies in the film in a way not true to his story).

Henry (Michael Rooker) is a drifter with no regard for anyone. He acquires a partner, Ottis (Tom Towles), and allows Ottis's sister, Becky, to hang with them. As in realty, Becky eventually annoys Henry sufficiently to become a victim. (Henry Lee Lucas said, tearfully, that she was the only person he ever loved.)

Director Chuck Parello made a sequel to Henry, and Rooker has been replaced by Neil Giuntoli, a television actor. It was released in September 2006. Henry has a new partner, Kai, whom he meets while applying for a job. Kai invites Henry to room with him and soon confides his dirty work with arson for insurance payouts. Henry takes to this, helping to set fires, and in the film, he commits a few random murders along the way. There's a slight love interest, followed by a suicide, and Henry eventually dispenses with Kai and moves on. He's essentially a lone wolf. It's not the stature of artistic rendering that the first one is (or so some critics insist) and will probably disappoint the cult following that Henry inspired.

Henrydoes at least depict the distanced psychopath who can kill even a person he claims he has loved (for all that a psychopath can love). The original is the one to watch, as it follows Henry on his journey of murder.

Henry Lee Lucas
Henry Lee Lucas

Henry Lee Lucas, arrested in 1983, estimated at that time that he'd killed 100 people, but eventually raised that number to over 350 in twenty-seven different states (some sources claim he took credit for over 600). His partner, Ottis Toole, gleefully added his own, and affirmed that he had participated with Lucas in murder, necrophilia and cannibalism.

Lawmen came from all over the country to Texas to close their open cases, providing Lucas with outings and meals, but suddenly he recanted. Then he insisted he'd been forced to recant, confusing everyone. "I set out to break and corrupt any law enforcement officer I could get," Lucas said. "I think I did a pretty good job." When he died in 2001, the truth went with him.

While it was clear that he had committed at least four murders, including his mother, even one of those—a female victim dubbed "Orange Socks"—came under doubt in recent years. Some criminologists believe he was responsible for between forty to fifty murders, and he was convicted of eleven, but no one knows his number of victims for sure. He received the death penalty for "Orange Socks," but this sentence was commuted to life, and he eventually died in prison of natural causes.

Ottis Toole
Ottis Toole

Of the original Henry, some critics state that the graphic, even casual way the murders are committed trivializes murder, which, of course, is true to the type of killer Lucas was. The film adequately portrays the drifter type, for whom nothing is sacred and nothing much matters. (The various Ripley films about a psychopathic killer accomplish something similar, especially the one starring John Malkovich.)


In contrast, a killer in Russia had a job, a wife, children, and no apparent reason to be as savage as he became.

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