****/**** Image A Sound A Extras A+
starring Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, Tom Towles
written by Richard Fire & John McNaughton
directed by John McNaughton
by Walter Chaw John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (hereafter Henry) is one of the great black comedies. At its heart is the basis of Judd Apatow's gross-out flicks: body horror, deviant sexuality, deep ignorance-unto-actual stupidity, questionable decisions and their consequences, and brilliant bits of deadpan humour dependent upon timing and situation. Similarly, it derives its effectiveness from a keen observation of male heterosexual relationships and the peril implicit therein. The sole distinction, really, is that Apatow and his followers believe in conservative, family-values resolutions whereas Henry ends in essential, sucking nihilism. It's a distinction that draws the line between something that's considered to be a comedy and something that's widely discussed as possibly the most unpleasant American film ever made. What most have identified as pessimistic, however, I would just call vérité, now more than ever. At least for me, Henry had about it an almost palpable air of taboo. Though shot in 1986, it was released in Denver in 1990, when I was 17. I read Roger Ebert's cautionary, celebratory review of it, which made me afraid. When I saw it, I saw it alone. For its wisdom, it's never quite left me.