FEATURE 83:00 35mm 1989

During the winter of 1985, a young Chicago theater director named John McNaughton, gathered a group of actors from the Organic Theater Company and with a tiny budget created what became one of the most chilling and notorious horror films ever made. Inspired by a television news magazine’s story about confessed serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas the film used a slice-of-life approach to create a docudrama of chillingly real feeling horror. Michael Rooker, in his first film role, portrayed the twisted, psychotic Henry as a quiet, blank-eyed drifter selecting his victims at random and killing as casually as one might order a pizza. Once he is joined by his deranged roommate, a loudmouthed ex-convict named Otis (Tom Towles), the almost unfathomably malevolent acts multiply.

John McNaughton’s film, in the tradition of such classic studies of homicidal personality as PEEPING TOM and TAXI DRIVER, goes further than both of these movies in its flat refusal to tell the killer’s story on anything other than the killer’s terms. McNaughton presented the world Henry aimlessly traverses as Henry sees it–almost unendurably bleak and meaningless–and in doing so his film went as deep into the nightmarish mind of a killer as anything ever committed to celluloid.

Originally rated X by the MPAA for its “moral tone”, the film was trapped in the movie rating system for three years, while devolving a large cult following through festival screenings and review tapes sent out to the underground horror film press. When the MPAA told the filmmakers that there were no cuts that could be made that would give the film an R rating, the film’s distributors finally chose to release unrated. The real Henry Lee Lucas has since recanted many of his crimes but after twenty years the film is as powerful as ever and remains a classic of defiantly independent Chicago filmmaking.

“It’s probably too bloody for the art crowd and too arty for the blood crowd.”- John McNaughton


Comments are closed