Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I usually hear this movie mentioned in the same breath as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  I don’t think that I necessarily enjoyed Henry, but it was a good movie.  So I thought I would give this one a shot.

After watching it, I can see why they’re mentioned together.  They both had the same feel to them: less scary and more unnerving.  More like a documentary than a normal horror movie.  They both are extremely raw, and unsettling with their intimate brutality.

The story is simple: Frank Zito is a lonely man.  His mother was a prostitute, and she abused him.  She died in a car wreck years ago, but he has never been able to escape her grip on his life.  So he kills women, scalps them, and puts them on his ever-increasing collection of mannequins in his small apartment.  He keeps one mannequin in his bed, who he talks to as if she was his mother.  When he tires of that particular mannequin, he kills another woman, scalps her, and puts her hair on another mannequin.
Eventually, he meets Anna, a photographer.  They go on a couple of dates for some reason (they don’t really talk about why she has agreed to go on these dates).  He meets some of her friends at a photo shoot, and he kills one of them.  Because that’s what he does.
The love story element of this movie bothered me quite a bit.  It felt extremely forced (the love story element of Henry, on the other hand, felt very real and organic), which hurt the movie.  It’s a complex movie, with a complex lead character, which made the love story seem even more ridiculous.  It’s like they shoehorned this storyline into an otherwise well thought-out and realized story.  I don’t understand it at all.

I also had a major problem with the ending.  [SPOILER ALERT…even though this movie came out in 1980]  Frank had gone on a killing spree spanning a few days and several bodies.  He terrified an entire city.  And yet, when the police are finally tipped-off, they send two cops to his apartment (one of whom appears to be comfortably in his 60s).  They bust in the door, and find him on his bed, stabbed through the stomach by a sword.  Instead of checking his pulse, they shrug their shoulders and leave.  When Frank opens his eyes at the end, instead of being shocked, I was just mad at the ineptness of the police.  [END SPOILER]

There was one scene that was more popular than others, so I would be remiss not to mention it.  That scene would be when a character referred to as “Disco Boy” on IMDB (played by special effects wizard Tom Savini) has his head blown off by a 12 gauge shotgun at close range.  It was glorious: insane, brutal, and very realistic (Savini served in Vietnam and used his experience there to create as accurate a depiction as possible).  It was pretty shocking, even though I knew it was coming.

It wasn’t an amazing movie, but it was really good.  Like Henry, I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I’m glad I watched it.  Again, it was in the same vein as Henry (Maniac came out 6 years prior to Henry), but it wasn’t nearly as good.  So I guess I would say, “If you can only watch one serial killer movie that makes you feel pretty dirty, make it Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  But, if you have the stomach to watch two, make the other one Maniac.”  Still, it was very well done, and extremely well-acted (after seeing Joe Spinell in this movie, I’ll never watch Rocky the same way again).  It was pretty disturbing and very unsettling.

Notable actors: Joe Spinell, Tom Savini

Rating: 3.5/5

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