USA, 1986 (MIFF 1992)

Director: John McNaughton

It will be a pity if Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer comes to be known for the controversy it has sparked rather than its qualities as a piece of filmmaking. As Caryn James in The New York Tunes remarked, "It is profoundly disturbing, even more for the questions it rais­es about the use of film than for the mutilated bodies that litter the screen "

The film is loosely based on the true life story of Henry Lee Lucas, now on death row in Texas, who once confessed to several hundred murders One of the film's strengths is the refusal to 'explam' Henry's behaviour Director John McNaughton's essential point is the futili­ty of thinking Henry can be understood.

Michael Rooker plays the drifter and ex-con Henry with astonishing calm and control. Unlike most cinematic murderers, his madness is not signposted, he kills with a near-natural ease. He meets up with an old prison buddy, Otis (Tom Towles) Henry introduces him to the pleasures of random killing and falls in love with his sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) who, like Henry, was raised in a home of unrelent­ing violence and cruelty.

The version screening here was classified 'R' by the Australian censor only after 9 cuts totalling 96 seconds were made. Nonetheless, the film's power remains intact and undeni­able In one extraordinary sequence, Otis videotapes the massacre of a family, and later watches it again in slo-mo Ifs a moment of self-reflection that opens wide the mass of con­tradictions and paradoxes behind an audi­ence's voluntary submission to the camera's gaze, regardless of how.

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