Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer blu-ray (Dark Sky Films, NR)

dvd_henry_sm.gifThe end result is a pretty strong argument for the transfer of just about everything to blu-ray.




Despite seeming like the type of film that would be best suited to being screened from a beaten-up film print in a theater of ill repute, the 1986 John McNaughton-directed horror classic Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer has just been released in the polar opposite format: a shiny, new blu-ray disc. How much does a film like this benefit from new technology, anyway? I mean, aside from being a film that actually thrives on that fact that it looks like it was made cheaply, it was originally shot in 1.33:1, so it won’t even benefit from your big, nice TV. What’s the point, then? It seems like a VHS copy would be just as good.

It turns out that Henry looks much better than I would have imagined. That isn’t necessarily to say that it looks fantastic; it’s not so pristine as to distract from the horrific nature of the film. It’s just clearer, and the grain of the film comes through a lot stronger. It sounds nice, too, and the end result is a pretty strong argument for the transfer of just about everything to blu-ray, as this is the type of thing that seems would suffer most from the process.

Transfer quality aside, when I watched Henry to review this disc it was only the second time I’d ever seen the film, the first time being almost a decade ago. That said, I found it to be more effective as a horror movie the second time around—and the first time I already thought it was pretty effective. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it essentially passively follows the loner Henry (Michael Rooker), who drifts from town to town working odd jobs and killing people, yet being very careful to not leave discernible patterns in his murders so it looks like they were done by all different people. The bulk of Henry concerns his dealings with his new, creepy roommate Otis (Tom Towles), an old friend of Henry’s from prison, and the arrival of Otis’s sister Becky (Tracy Arnold), who immediately takes a liking to Henry.

The film is at its best when it is keeping the murders and violence offscreen, as the antiquated special effects don’t all hold up so well anymore, but there are still a few instances of violence onscreen that are appropriately horrifying. That said, if you have either never seen the film before or, like me, haven’t seen it in a while, you might want to plow through the menu screen as hastily as possible, as it falls into that stupid trend of putting its best scenes in short clips on the menu, giving all of the good parts (and plot twists) away.

1986 was a banner year for iconic horror movie villains: we had Michael Rooker as Henry in this, a crusty, low-budget film, and Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in the higher-budget Blue Velvet. If Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer can benefit this much from a blu-ray transfer, I’m anxious to see what can be done with something like the glossier Blue Velvet. | Pete Timmermann

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