Henry Part 2
ZERO STARS/**** Image C Sound D Extras D
starring Neil Giuntoli, Rich Komenich, Kate Walsh, Carri Levinson
written and directed by Chuck Parello
*½/**** Image B Sound B-
starring Jennifer Grey, Craig Sheffer, Daniel Lapaine, Kristen Wilson
screenplay by Rob Cohen and Avi Nesher, based on the screenplay for I Walked with a Zombie by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray
directed by Avi Nesher
by Walter Chaw John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is that rare exploitation film that at once transcends and wallows in the ugly strictures of its sub-genre. A commentary on itself by dint of its honesty and intelligence, it lives and dies by the irony that despite the extremes to which it goes in its imagining and depiction of atrocity, it succeeds mainly through the quality of its reserve. It's maybe the first realistic-seeming film about a serial killer in that any prurient satisfaction one derives from the events depicted therein one suspects is entirely due to the angle of twist to one's own shadow. It's both a personality and an endurance test--and at the end of it we're left feeling as though we've witnessed some kind of emotional documentary about the psychic toll of murder on the societal organism. At its heart, it's an experiment in collectivism where the individual is tested against the insurgent: the body politic challenged to cohere against an anarchist. The power of Henry is that it engenders something like hope--an almost naïve belief that the humanity represented by the audience will identify with the dregs of society because said dregs, likable in no other way, are being preyed upon by something other than human. And humans, no matter how irredeemable, are still the "home team," as it were.
Henry Part 2, on the other hand, is a burlesque, a picture by folks who've seen the first film and replicate it point-by-point without understanding the first film's bedrock of humanism. Where the original is almost a body-horror film, inexorable and intimate in its insistence, this direct-to-video sequel is misguided, insensible garbage I'm loathe to come down on too hard because it's just not good sport to go after retarded things. Worse than shooting fish in a barrel, picking out particular flaws in a dim-witted disasterpiece like Henry Part 2 requires the exact same pathology that impels the film's hero to squish other humans like insects. That said, Henry Part 2 stars Neil Giuntoli as a heavy-breathing Eastwood wannabe who gets a job as a port-a-potty tech and some temporary digs with his partner Kai (Rich Komenich) and Kai's wife Cricket (Kate Walsh). Kai is an insurance fraud firebug and, after being forced to participate in the summary execution of a couple of stoner unfortunates, falls under the sway of Henry's compulsive murder addiction. The limp suggestion here is that Henry, looking like a weird hybrid of the adult Jerry Mathers and the adult Tony Dow, has or should have charisma and, more, that the obtuse Henry is interested in or capable of the sort of Byzantine Svengalism required of the puppet-master role.
So as not to stray too far afield from the original, Henry Part 2 also introduces a ridiculous love interest in poor Louisa (Carri Levinson), a horrible depressed-girl caricature who does depressed-girl sketches to the unintentionally-hilarious admiration of love-object Henry. Their mutually inarticulate courtship feels a lot like Napoleon Dynamite in that the humour here derives from our feeling superior to fake people who've been so dressed down that they're inferior to everyone. If Henry is humanistic, Henry Part 2 is misanthropic--because, essentially, John McNaughton and the original Henry, Michael Rooker, present a scenario that provokes introspection while Chuck Parello and Giuntoli present one that unintentionally provokes laughter and condescension. The audience likewise rallies around a common enemy, but the Martians this time around are the filmmakers. This doesn't lead to anything that could be described as disturbing content, but rather to a few confused and incompetently-edited love scenes (though in fairness, no more incompetently edited than the rest of the film), culminating in an arbitrary suicide intrigue and a less-than-inevitable sequence of homicidal events. You could say that the original was also pointless and arbitrary, but you'd be wrong and, what's more, you'd be wrong in the same way that the makers of this picture are wrong.
Ritual, the first "Tales From the Crypt" property to go directly to DVD (and the second unrelated sequel--after the excrescent Bordello of Blood--to the surprisingly good Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight), aims high by remaking Jacques Tourneur's extraordinary I Walked with a Zombie and comes up with something that, although it has a few borrowed thoughts in its head, perhaps predictably has precious few innovations of its own. A typical tale of voodoo in a tropical locale, Ritual centres around comely Alice Dodgson (Jennifer Grey), a (say it with me) brilliant-but-disgraced doctor looking to exorcise a few metaphorical demons in a makeshift Eden. Of course her demons literalize themselves and, of course again, she's asked to revisit her psychic pain in order to save Jamaica from some seriously bad juju.
As Grey is clearly committed to the project (ditto Tim Curry in a creepy/funny turn as a remorseless philanderer), the "Tales from the Crypt" brand's predilection for cheap T&A and gore gags feel like a betrayal of the cast (and of the source material as well) more than good, clean, exploitation fun. It's that tug-of-war between a piece that wants to be more than it is and a franchise that demands certain concessions that leads to great swaths of Ritual's disjointedness, with the film pinballing from what might be called fetal character and narrative development to sudden gross-outs, arbitrary nudity, and stupid, slapstick humour. It's a serial rhythmic dyslexia that might have had something to do with the picture's long, sordid backstory that resulted, almost a half-decade since it wrapped, in this unceremonious dumping into the home video bilge tank. Strange to say it, I know, but if only Ritual had handled itself with the same level of relative gravity as Demon Knight, we might have really had something here.
Dark Sky extends Henry Part 2's shelf life for whatever reason with a fine 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that, I imagine, reflects crappy production values. This is essentially a four-star restaurant wrapping a desiccated rat in a silk tissue however you slice it; accordingly, the DD 5.1 audio reserves the bulk of its information for front and centre channels. As there would've come a point where doing too much would only highlight the ignobility of the piece as a whole, kudos to Dark Sky for leaving well enough alone in a manner of speaking. I especially like the idea in this instance of giving faux-teur Parello enough rope with which to hang himself in a feature-length commentary that reveals him to be arrogant and deluded in equal measure. The ubiquitous David Gregory serves as moderator but, again, what's the point in this case? It's a lot like dating the ugly girl just to prove you're not prejudiced. Parello confirms that he loves his casting choices, thinks all of the shots are brilliant and "absolutely frightening," that his film is "chilling," and that his introduction of the Henry character is the best ever of something. He goes on to celebrate his cast as giving perfect performances while declaring that the atrocious editing of the film is actually, on the contrary, wonderful. It's times like these I wish I'd thought up THE ONION A.V. CLUB's "Commentary Tracks of the Damned." Parello also takes a moment to offer that producers never know what they want, that critics are stupid, and that audiences are probably dispensable, too, incidentally.
Among the thirty minutes of elisions are a scene with a surviving hooker (why is there never any payoff in this picture?) and some police brutality that further underscores the problem with handing a pony-haired liberal the reins of a psycho-killer production. (Don't drink underage! Don't talk to strange men! Don't turn on the red light!) Those hoping for additional graphic sex or violence, though: go rent a real movie. "H2: The Making of a Madman" (14 mins.) is standard B-roll junket morass that has Parello, coffee in one hand, finger pointing out of the other, demonstrating his directing style before he gifts us with the observation that "today's audiences are more action oriented" and that people want to see Henry on the loose and so on and so forth. All of it is a long, roundabout way of declaring that writing=bad. Trailers for this and the original Henry along with about forty-five stills (including another of Parello sticking his finger out like Washington crossing the Potomac) round out the platter. Dimension's Ritual DVD, on the other end of the spectrum, features a perfectly serviceable 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a DD 5.1 mix that does what it does with a modicum of perfunctory professionalism without sticking around to leave the long, lingering aftertaste of too much time tossed after bad. Originally published: November 1, 2006.