Sequels to iconic films are dicey propositions – filmmakers run the risk of alienating audiences and tarnishing the legacies of otherwise acclaimed films by furthering exploring characters and plot-lines established in earlier works. For every The Godfather, Part II, there's a Speed 2: Cruise Control lurking in the wings. John McNaughton's 1986 thriller Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was an excruciating masterpiece of modern horror, hitting with all the force of a hurricane. A grim, unrelenting character study that didn't shy away from some truly spectacular set pieces, the original Henry remains a landmark work 20 years later.
There was some concern when, in 1998, writer/director Chuck Parello decided that the sociopathic Henry needed revisiting that McNaughton's gripping film would be somehow diminished. Thankfully, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2 doesn't drag down McNaughton's work, but rather stands as an example of what might have been – a low budget, occasionally amateurish production punctuated by startling moments of gore. Neil Giuntoli takes over the role given life by Michael Rooker in the original film and while Giuntoli can't match Rooker's tightly wound menace, he deliver an eerily effective performance that rivets your attention to the screen.
As with the first Henry, the story is deceptively simple: Henry (Giuntoli) takes a menial job at a port-a-potty company, where he meets up with the slimy Kai (Rich Komenich) and Rooter (Daniel Allar). Kai and his wife Cricket ("Grey's Anatomy" star Kate Walsh) take pity on the rootless drifter and open up their home, which they also share with mousy niece Louisa (Carri Levinson). Henry soon discovers that Kai is an arsonist-for-hire, but quickly introduces him to a whole other kind of thrill. Once Kai and Cricket discover what Henry is up to, they try to force him out of their lives, but it may be too little, too late.
While Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2 doesn't besmirch the memory of its predecessor, neither does it make you yearn for a third film – there are moments of truly awkward acting (mostly Allar, Komenich and Walsh) as well as a few gory sequences where the seams of the effects show through. By the time the incendiary climax arrives, what's meant to be thoroughly horrifying and tragic instead plays as a faintly satirical conclusion to all that's come before (can there really be THAT much bloodshed in a single night without attracting any police attention?). A fitfully riveting slow burn, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2 is a psychological slasher flick that stands as one of the rare sequels to, at the very least, pay homage to that which has come before.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2 is presented with an appropriately grungy 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that renders Henry's glum world in shades of gray and brown, with little visible print damage or other visual defects. The infrequent bursts of blood look vivid and rich and overall, looks about as good as can be.
A film mostly driven by dialogue and Robert McNaughton's overwrought score (returning from the first film), the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't have many chances to shine, but instead, accurately and warmly renders the occasionally wooden dialogue with no drop-out or distortion. A Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack is also included, as are optional English subtitles.
Parello sits for an ersatz interview with Blue Underground's David Gregory for the commentary track, which delves into the background of the film, as well as discussing the cast and his intentions. 28 minutes and 47 seconds of deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, while the 14 minute, 21 second featurette "H2: The Making of a Madman" details the creation of the film, with a still gallery and trailers for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2 is a fitfully riveting slow burn, a psychological slasher flick that stands as one of the rare sequels to, at the very least, pay homage to that which has come before. Recommended.