Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer


Viewed – 14 April 2022  Blu-ray

I saw this notorious drama on a heavily censored VHS rental years ago and decided it was one of the more disturbing serial killer movies I’d seen.  Of course over the years it’s shock value has diluted.  These days the boundaries of what is allowed to be seen on screen has been pushed to a much harder degree than what would have been banned back in the eighties.  That being said, this movie still has the power to disturb.

Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) plays sociopath and killer Henry – loosely based on real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who kills at random and without motive, drifting from town to town.  After befriending Otis (Tom Towles) and moving into his run-down apartment they are soon joined by Otis’ younger sister Becky and their simple dynamic is complicated once Henry begins involving Otis in his murderous ‘hobby’.

Directed my John McNaughton (Wild Things) with a cold, semi-documentary style this is a movie that doesn’t offer explanation or back story but simply explores a week in the life of a killer.  Rooker is unnervingly convincing, aided well by his co-stars and McNaughton’s ominous, matter-of-fact tone.  It doesn’t offer answers and is all that more powerful for it, offering some still-to-this-day shocking scenes (the home invasion).  The acting isn’t Silence of the Lambs Oscar stuff by a long stretch and some scenes are quite amateurish, not helped by a low budget and filmed-on-the-fly locations.  Yet it manages to pack a punch even all these years later.

I picked up the recent Arrow Video 4K Blu-Ray release. The picture quality, a new restoration supervised by the director is very grainy but close-up detail is good. The soundtrack is offered in its original 2.0 stereo and a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio option. Dialogue is mostly clear apart from one segment based under a bridge, which was very echoey. Extras consist of interviews, which are from a number of years back, censorship featurettes covering both American and British censor history, making of, deleted scenes and photo galleries. The limited edition set also comes with a poster, booklet and a separate booklet showing the original storyboards. Three director commentaries, one of which is brand new rounds off the presentation. Impressive stuff.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Spider-Man No Way Home


Viewed – 13 April 2022 online-rental

Where do I begin talking about one of the biggest movies of last year? This third entry in the rebooted franchise starring Tom Holland follows directly on from the last movie that ended with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio revealing Spider-Man’s true identity to the world. Faced with being recognised and harassed everywhere he goes, Peter Parker / Spider-Man turns to Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to alter time and cause people to forget who Spider-Man is … however things don’t go according to plan.

This is up there with one of the boldest concepts for a superhero movie. Hyped leading up to its release due to the fact the movie brings back a number of classic villains from all the previous Spidy movies – including Alfred Molina’s Dr Octopus … I was nervous the wealth of ideas and characters wouldn’t come together in a coherent, easy to follow way. Thankfully, the writers did a commendable job here and deliver a fun, constantly surprising and highly entertaining ‘spectacle’. There’s room in its 2 and a half hour run time for action, comedy and some powerful character moments that definitely had my heart-strings tugged.

Effects wise, even for a Marvel movie this reaches new levels – a fight between Spider-Man and Dr Strange is simply jaw dropping. A special mention should also go to the de-ageing effects for certain returning characters which is probably the most convincing I’ve yet seen. At times there are some plot conveniences that stand out and a bit involving a ‘cure’ remedy feels a stretch – I’m also still pondering that gut-punch of an ending. Yet considering what’s going on and the fact it mostly all works – this was still a triumph. Not the masterpiece it’s been heralded as, but still a great time from start to finish.

Verdict: Recommended

The Clovehitch Killer


Viewed – 10 April 2022 online rental

I’d heard some good things about this, and I’ll admit serial killer movies intrigue me, so when I heard this one was inspired by the real life serial killer Dennis Rader (aka BTK) I knew I had to see it. Teenager Tyler lives in a small town where ten years previous a killer claimed ten victims before disappearing. Each year the town holds a memorial for those that died, the shadow of the ‘clovehitch killer’ – named after a tied piece of rope found at every murder scene – looming large. However after stumbling upon a secret stash of bondage photos and various other items, Tyler begins to suspect his father may actually be the killer.

This realistic and engrossing drama has at its centre a solid performance from Charlie Plummer as Tyler, conveying teenage angst and troubling suspicions well. Dylan McDermott as his father is also very good – charming yet sinister. Support from the rest of the cast is also good, including a where has she been Samantha Mathis (Broken Arrow) as Tyler’s unsuspecting mother.

The concept pulled me in as the story unfolded. Although not as disturbing as it could have been this still had its moments. I’d have liked a bit more emotion from Tyler towards the end but the actor did convey a lot with his eyes and subtle mannerisms. The final act was also rather creative. As a sort-of BTK movie this glosses over much of what actually happened but conveys the man quite authentically I’d say. One to check out.

Verdict: Recommended

Nightmare Alley


Viewed – 06 April 2022 Disney+

Guillermo Del Toro is one of my favourite directors, so anything he comes out with is going to grab my attention. However this latest effort seemed to appear out of nowhere with little of the fan fair his movies usually attract. Bradley Cooper plays a guy seemingly drifting from place to place due to a troubled past, and gets taken in by a travelling carnival in the 1940s. There he develops a skill from conning audiences with fake psychic ability and chooses to take that skill to con the social elite out of thousands.

Del Toro’s style is once again showcased, even if it’s more subtle than say Hellboy or The Shape of Water. The movie is beautifully filmed, given an old fashioned, somewhat silent movie aesthetic. The carnival setting is perfectly freaky too. However this is very much a film-noir with a femme fatale in the shape of Cate Blanchett and a flawed hero in Cooper. Support is also decent, with appearances from Ron Perlman, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara and Toni Collette.

Due to the mentalist/grifter plot this can be hard to follow at times, and at 2 and a half hours, the movie drags slightly, especially in the first half. However with a clever final act that does make you wish you’d concentrated more early on … as the movie hints and lays bread crumbs to its twist – I felt this was one of those movies that may benefit from repeat viewings. As it stands, whilst not Del Toro at his best, this was still a well acted, stylish and cleverly-constructed movie. Worth a watch.

Verdict: Good+

Stillwater


Viewed – 02 April 2022 online-rental

I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that Matt Damon is one of the best actors currently working, so this drama inspired by true events was an easy prospect. Damon plays a father who travels to the French district of Marseille to visit his daughter who five years previous was convicted of murder after a girl was found dead in an apartment she was living in. With the case pretty much closed, Damon is determined to find evidence to finally exonerate her, and along the way befriends a French woman and the woman’s young daughter.

This movie, loosely based on the ‘Amanda Knox’ case from several years back was really absorbing, especially due to Damon’s authentic and very ‘human’ performance. The realationship he builds with the French woman and her daughter turns out to be the most effective aspect, with his own daughter more of a side character (played well by Zombieland’s Abigail Breslin). I had some knowledge of the real-life case going into this and it was what first attracted me to the story, but this turns out to be more of a character study of a father trying to adapt to a hopeless situation, turning his own life around in the process. It was quite moving at times, heart warming and sad, with an ending I felt was really impactful.

As an interpretation of a true story, it does change a lot but also adds it’s own ideas that proved compelling, and having everything from the perspective of a father rather than the woman who had been convicted was a unique take. I’d have liked a bit more back story, and the movie had a habit of skipping over some moments I felt could have been quite dramatic. Overall, another solid outing for Damon, and a story that really affected me.

Verdict: Recommended