Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Chills: Where To Find Them.

I know I mentioned that I was going to do a Halloween post on Vampires and their evolution on film but once I did some research and discovered that not only have there been 266 Vampire films made since Nosferatu, I haven't seen about 90% of them. (Sorry Twilight kids, I'm going in a different direction!)  The one good thing that came out of my intentions was sitting down and watching a two hour special that ran on The History Channel recently about Prince Vlad Dracul III.

Moving forward I still wanted to do a Halloween post and since I saw Paranormal Activity 3 (which was going to be my one scary film during Halloween week) I had decided to discuss it but there was one problem. I didn't find the film scary and it was actually a big disappointment after seeing the first two in the series and loving both.  When you go into a film knowing it will be a prequel to the first two you expect answers and feeling like you can go back and watch the first two one day, having all of the missing puzzle pieces in place.  Not so! I just feel like I did after seeing the first season of LOST, well except that PA3 lacked decent writers, and a good plot.  Perhaps others will feel differently about it so I won't include any spoilers here.

Okay, I'm now running out of post ideas and it's October 29th but I found myself watching a Bravo special which showed the Top 15 Scarier Movie Moments.  Still wanting to find at least one scary film to watch over Halloween weekend, I paid close attention to the clips.  Three films in particular peeked my interest and they were at the top 5 of the scariest. Hmmm, do I dare watch any of these? I'm feeling pretty brave these days for some reason.

Now, I stay away from slasher films at all costs but the three films that caught my eye were "Maniac" (1980) which is about a serial killer who runs around New York on a murderous rampage.  The second film was "Frailty" (2001) which follows the story of two boys during the mid-70's after their crazy father starts getting orders from God to kill demon's.  The last one and the one at the top of the 'scariest film' list was "Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer" (1986)  Loosely based on real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas and his equally depraved sidekick Otis Toole.

Did I choose "Maniac" (looks terrifying)?

Frailty (which had an all star cast)

Or did I lose my mind completely and watch "Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer"?

So which of these super scary films did I decide to watch if any? First, let me say that I asked Nate from Forgotten Classic of Yesteryear his opinion since he watches a lot of scary movies and he had actually seen "Maniac" and "Henry".  To put it simply he said "I wouldn't watch any of them!"  Well, now I was even more intrigued so I went and read several reviews for "Henry" specifically.  When a reviewer writes things like "It made me physically ill", It's one of those things that once you've seen it, you can never un-see it", but the description that came up the most was "DISTURBING"!

I thought about it for at least 24 hours but in the end I watched both "Frailty" and "Henry". Dunn Dunn Dun. Now, let me just say that I've been reading books on True Crime for quite a few years and I enjoy all of the true crime show on television so "Henry" caught my interest for that reason. It was loosely based on serial killer Henry Lucas, as I stated earlier. My heart was racing before I even started the film and I honestly expected to have to turn it off within a couple of minutes.  I didn't and I actually watched the film twice. I know, I'm strange!  Perhaps graphic images don't bother me due to many years of working in the ER and being exposed to some very traumatic injuries. I know it sounds crass but eventually you get desensitized to it.  Of course patients don't jump out at you wielding machetes though. At least not in my experiences.

The lead is played by then unknown actor and Chicago native, Michael Rooker with Tom Towles playing Otis and Tracy Arnold playing the very flawed Becky, Otis's younger sister.  The film was written by Richard Fire and John McNaughton and Directed by McNaughton. Made on a shoe string budget of $100,000 in and around Chicago, it feels like a documentary, using the cinema verite style works very well for this film.  I'll give you my take on the film but fair warning, the film is not for the squeamish and the scenes are graphic. Also, this is not a snarky review.

The musical score is chilling and it fits, gives the viewer a warning that something really bad is going to happen.  And in the first few scenes we see dead bodies splayed out in water, in tall grass, different places all while Henry is shown driving around Chicago in his clunker of a car.  Even though we don't see Henry actually kill any of these people, it's understood that he's been very busy when not working his menial job or getting drunk on cheap beer in his seedy little walk up apartment.

Henry has no motive or pattern, he just kills at random which is why he was able to escape capture. A typical day in the Chicago streets.

Henry! You've passed this guy on the street day after day. He's worked on your car, chatted with you in line at the grocery store. You might even live next door to him right now.

You just don't know he's a monster because you've never had the misfortune of being in his path on that one night of the week that he feels the urge to kill.

While you and I spend our free time doing something like watching a movie or gardening, Henry spends his days stalking his future victims. (Her husband came outside so she lived a couple more days)

Sometimes it's as easy as driving along a lonely highway where an unsepecting hitchhiker falls into your lap.

Henry doesn't live alone. He lives in a cramped little apartment with Otis, a disgusting little creeper that he met in prison. Otis's little sister shows up after she leaves her abusive husband and little girl. She's damaged goods. I like her immediately but I feel very uncomfortable watching her brother make sexual advances towards her. 

This one makes my skin crawl and he's not even the psychotic serial killer!

Henry is emotionally dead after surviving a childhood of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his prostitute mother. His stint in prison was for killing her.  

As the film progresses we see Becky develop feelings for Henry, most likely because she's so flawed, terrorized by her brother and in need of protection but Henry isn't capable of reciprocating her feelings or sexual advances.  The film takes an even darker turn when the two guys pick up a couple of hookers and Henry, without provocation snaps both of their necks then dumps them both in a heap in the back of a filthy alley.  This sparks something in Otis who looks up to Henry.  He gets tips on how to avoid getting caught (they're both on probation after all) before finding a random motorist to shoot.  

In one scene the two wind up looking to buy a new television from a back alley salesman who winds up dead in the cruelest way.  

They acquire a video camera which sets up the most disturbing scene in the movie. After they break in to a families home, brutally killing the family after violating the wife (all while videotaping their horrific crime), they then play the murders back over and over from their couch at home.  

Not long after and a couple of murderous nights later, Henry walks in on a drunken Otis in the process of raping his sister. A fight ensues and Otis winds up dead.  There's a pretty gruesome scene where Henry dismembers Otis's body in the bathtub. (I'll save you the graphic images) 

Of course Becky, now on the run and completely traumatized takes off with Henry.  In a very sad scene she tells him she loves him then he responds with "I guess I love you too"

After an all night drive where Henry manages to make Becky feel safe by telling her they're headed to his sisters ranch in California where they will eventually send for her daughter, they wind up at an out of the way hotel. The next morning Henry is seen leaving alone. Eventually he stops on the side of a road.

Bone chilling music starts and we're left with this image as the film comes to an end.

I certainly understand why this film had an impact on so many. I wouldn't really categorize it as a horror film as much as a chilling thriller. In the style that it was filmed and with the very realistic killing scenes you feel like you're watching a week in the life of a serial killer.  That in itself will keep you awake at night, make you more cautious when going out alone but you'll always have that uneasiness knowing that there are serial killers just like Henry Lee Lucas walking the streets among us, killing at random.  To me THAT is what's so horrifying about this film.  

Fortunately, there was a 30 minute long interview with the director John McNaughton at the end of this copy. He talks about his style choices when making Henry as well as the casting process. When Michael Rooker came in to read for the part of Henry he was dressed in the brown coat over the blue work pants as he read for the part in character.  This startled the director a little bit but he knew immediately that Rooker was the right choice.  Also, he anticipated the film being made to go directly to VHS. It was after the film was shown at the Telluride film festival that he knew it would eventually get a theatrical release. (The film actually sat on a shelf and it wasn't released in cinemas until 1990.) McNaughton also discusses first hearing about the real life serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas and he does admit that the film is based loosely on his life after meeting up with Otis Toole. 

I'm really not sure if I should recommend this film or not for those who enjoy good thrillers because you might be one of those people who is truly traumatized and scarred by this film.  I wasn't and I'm one of the biggest scaredy cats on the planet.  All in all, I tested myself this Halloween after a wasted few hours trying to get a good scare from Paranormal Activity 3 then searching for a good film.  I'm already looking forward to next year. Going to go set my house alarm now. 
Oh, and I'll be reviewing "Frailty" at a later date. It was another really good thriller.

Happy Halloween everyone and please feel free to share what you were watching over Halloween week as well as if you've seen any of the films I mentioned. 


  1. Page, while I adore your funny snarky pictorials, I enjoyed seeing you spread your wings and covering a serious film -- and few films are scarier and more bone-chilling than HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER! It's a great film, but definitely not one I'd watch over and over. Other truly unnervingly frightening films I saw for Halloween this past weekend were:

    1.) Roman Polanski's REPULSION over at John Greco's Twenty-Four Frames. Here's a link to my comment, too, if you're interested:

    2.) Robin Hardy's THE WICKER MAN, with a sly screenplay by Anthony Shaffer of SLEUTH fame, among others. It so happens we of Team Bartilucci wrote a blog post about it over at TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED! :-) Here's the link:

    3.) The original HALLOWEEN, which my dear late mom and I saw in a 1978 sneak preview in Yonkers, NY (it was a short drive from the Bronx, where we lived at the time). It was a double-feature for us, since the main attraction before the sneak preview was WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE? The poster looked a little scary, but not horrifically so -- until we sat down, and it was terror and suspense all the way! Mom and I were shrieking and hanging onto each other for dear life. It was awesome! :-) Need I say HALLOWEEN quickly became a family favorite? One of my high school classmates and I even ended up taking turns breathlessly describing the film in detail -- and this was in our Catholic high school, mind you! I guess we didn't spoil the surprises too much, because all our classmates went to see HALLOWEEN that weekend, and they came in burbling about it, too! :-)

    Sorry to blather away, Page, but kudos to your awesome blog post, and thanks for letting us share our favorites with you!

  2. I took an international approach this year, watching a bunch of horror films from around the world - some I liked, some I didn't - and topped it off with a post about 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' which isn't really all that scary even though 'horror' is in the title.

    I think I saw 'Henry' once back when I was working video retail, and no, it's not the kind of movie one would want to watch again and again.

  3. Dorian,
    Thanks! That means a lot coming from the girl who writes such beautiful posts.
    I haven't seen Repulsion but I'll go check out John's post as well as comment on your Wicker Man post. I watched The Ghost Writer last year which is Polanski's last film. It was great and looked very Hitchcock-esque.

    Sadly, I've never been able to get through Halloween. It's too scary like the other slasher series Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Now the Scream films are so awful and the acting so bad I can watch those.

    Thanks for sharing your Halloween experience.

    It sounds like you got your scary on too! Ha Ha
    I'm surprised that you and Dorian have seen Henry. I had never heard of it before last week. I doubt that I'll ever watch it again but who knows. At least nobody is yelling at me for liking it.
    Thanks for commenting.

  4. Hi Page!
    These films are so good.
    I should have found your blog a long time! It's so amazing.

    Have a nice day.
    See you later.

  5. Rubi,
    Good to see you again! I've started following your great blog AllClassics and I've added it to my blog roll.
    I hope my readers will check it out.
    Hope to see you soon.

  6. Great Review! Now...I want to hear your opinions on "Maniac!" I found it interesting how you said that gore didn't bother you that much since you were desensitized in an ER. But you still don't like horror movies. Is there some kind of disconnect between what you consider merely gore and genuine horror?

  7. Nate,
    I don't mind seeing blood and guts (like Henry when there's a closeup of the girl all mangled with the coke bottle in her eye socket) I just tell myself that it's movie makeup or in her case she looked like a rubber doll.
    I don't like being scared, like films where things jump out at you. The one part of the SAW film where there was the vat of needles really was disturbing and it's what turned me off and made me realize I can't get through those films. Watching someone decapitate someone isn't good either. In the ER we get patients AFTER the injury so we don't actually see it taking place. Thank GOD. I came upon an accident once where the truck had rolled over on a mans head and it was traumatizing. So I haven't been completely desensitized.
    Thanks for commenting.

  8. Oh' this movie seems so creepy. Anyway, there is a lot of things that is creepy when Halloween comes. Thanks for sharing.

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