Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Blu-ray Review
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer comes to the UK as an uncut Region B locked Blu-ray with a 1080p/24 AVC transfer that is window boxed at an aspect ratio of 1.33. Before there are any cries of outrage, this is the ratio that director John McNaughton used when he shot the film on 16mm film stock back in 1986 because at the time the intention was to release the film on video tape. However given that the film was shot on 16mm it was never going to look stellar but this new Blu-ray offers a reasonable step up in picture quality and this is probably as good as the film will ever or, in fact, has ever looked. The transfer retains plenty of film grain but you would expect that from a low budget film of this vintage that was largely shot on location. Blacks are reasonably solid and there is shadow detail in the many night scenes but contrast could be better. The level of detail is quite good considering the film stock used and whilst colours are accurate they are also slightly desaturated which matches the tone of the film. The Blu-ray would appear to be using a restored print and is a generally clean transfer with no artefacts or banding evident. Overall this is as good a picture as we could hope for and it retains the film’s gritty look and documentary feel.
Much like the picture, the soundtrack on the Blu-ray betrays Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’s low budget origins. There are no audio pyrotechnics on display here but then given the film’s almost documentary approach to its subject matter you wouldn’t really expect them. The film is dialogue heavy which is delivered with clarity and quite often the score and the sound effects are combined to create an unnerving sound design that perfectly compliments the visuals. The LPCM 2.0 audio on the Blu-ray accurately replicates the soundtrack as it was created back in 1986 and delivers it with suitable fidelity and detail.
The Blu-ray of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer does a good job of bringing together all the extras from previous DVD releases, both here and in the US and as a result offers a fairly comprehensive history of the film’s production and the censorship battles that followed its release.
- Commentary with Director John McNaughton - This is an interesting commentary track and John McNaughton comes across as a very intelligent and thoughtful filmmaker. He seems to have an incredible memory for detail, pointng out filming locations, production methods and the numerous friends who worked as extras on the movie. He discusses his intentions in making the film and offers plenty of technical details and anecdotes. Aside from the fact that McNaughton announces the date of the commentary’s recording at the end of the movie (15th of February 1999) it is possible to work out roughly when it was recorded because he mentions that Henry Lee Lucas's death sentence had just been commuted by the Governor of Texas. He then mentions that the Governor is George W. Bush who is the son of President Bush, so clearly it was recorded prior to Bush Jr running for President.
- Portrait: The Making of Henry (52:33) - This is a very comprehensive 'making of' documentary that includes interviews with almost everyone involved in the picture. It covers the genesis of the project, the writing, the casting, the production and the post production. It also covers the film's ultimate release and the censorship battles that it faced in the US. Along with the interviews and scenes from the film there is also some behind the scenes footage and the documentary runs almost as long as the film itself.
- The Serial Killers: Henry Lee Lucas (26:08) - This is a TV documentary about the real Henry Lee Lucas and it includes interviews with Henry himself, as well as various police officers and prosecutors. There is plenty of detail about Henry's background and the crimes he committed as well some other interesting facts. For example, a seriel killer is someone who kills three or more people and it is estimated that there are over 200 serial killers currently at large in the world.
- Interview with Director John McNaughton (30:32) - In this interview John McNaughton discusses his cinematic influences, his time as a film student and how he came to work on Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. As is often the case on a disc with a multitude of extras there tends to be some overlap and McNaughton essentially tells the same stories that he does in both the documentary and the commentary track. However there are still some interesting facts within this interview such as McNaughton mentioning that the novel Red Dragon (which has been filmed as both Manhunter and Red Dragon) was a major influence.
- John McNaughton in Conversation with Nigel Floyd (22:15) - This interview was obviously done for the UK DVD release of the uncut version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer back in 2003. Once again this interview does cover a lot of the same material as the other interviews but obviously since it was recorded for a UK release there is more discussion about the films censorship issues in this country.
- Censorship History Timeline - This is a text feature that lists the timeline of the film's various censorship battles with the BBFC.
- A Discussion of the Altered Scenes with John McNaughton and Nigel Floyd: In this feature John McNaughton discusses the struggles to get the film released in the UK and the various cuts and changes that were made by the BBFC. The three scenes discussed are the 'Opening Sequence' (7:22) with the montage of dead bodies, 'Otis and the Broken TV' (4:42) where Henry and Otis kill the TV salesman and the infamous 'Home Invasion Sequence' (3:12).
- Deleted Scenes and Outtakes with Commentary by Director John McNaughton (21:03) - The original audio for the deleted scenes has unfortunately been lost so the footage is presented with commentary by John McNaughton and documentarian David Gregory. McNaughton discusses the scenes, why they were filmed and why they were ultimately cut.
- Stills Gallery (1:23) - A collection of stills from the movie, including some behind the scenes shots.
- Original Storyboards (5:02) - It might be surprising to discover that a low budget film like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer used storyboards but it was very sensible of John McNaughton because it allowed him to plan shots ahead and thus save time and money. When watching the storyboards it is amazing how close the shots in the final film actually are to them.
- Trailer (1:52) - This surprisingly low key trailer is in keeping with the film's documentary approach and does a good job of selling a film with such a difficult subject matter.
This Region B Blu-ray presents the film with a new 1080p transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 that is probably the best the film has ever looked considering its low budget origins. The LPCM 2.0 soundtrack also does an excellent job of capturing the film’s original and decidedly unnerving sound design. To cap it all off there is a very comprehensive selection of extras, including an excellent ‘making of’ documentary, deleted scenes and an informative commentary track.
It’s a good indication of how much things have changed here in the UK that we now have a completely uncut high definition print of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer available to watch on home video. We can finally see John McNaughton’s vision as he intended and whilst the film might be 25 years old, it has lost none of its disturbing power. Overall this is an excellent package that can easily be recommended to existing fans but anyone new to the film should be aware that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer does not make for comfortable viewing.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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