Let’s start from what this movie is not: a reliable fact-based account of Lee Lucas’ killing spree. Admittedly, even that would have been difficult to achieve, as Henry Lee Lucas confessed to over 350 murders, the actual figure being possibly much lower as he had a habit of confessing to anything he was accused of.
Stylistically, it looks good, it has an attractive cast, it is snazzily shot, and all that contributes to taking away from its credibility.
The movie tries to get some solid background with the flashbacks on Lee Lucas’ early life, bullied and abused by a bitter and unloving mother. The seeds of the future killer are planted here, and are almost too obvious (growing up in squalor, killing small animals, witnessing the mother’s sexual encounters with casual visitors, an uninterested mutilated alcoholic father). The cast is forged for a future as a drifter incapable of relating to other human beings.
The exceptions to this are fellow drifters, Ottis, another sociopath, and Ottis’ niece, Becky, a simple (but hot) 14-year-old who soon becomes Henry’s lover.
Utterly devoid of a moral compass, they travel and murder at random. Or so it seems, for the movie is told in flashback by a Lee Lucas who is allegedly confessing to a police force eager to pin unsolved murders on someone and close the cases.
Lee Lucas relishes his role of anti hero, willing to humour the police and getting better treatment in return, thus, the movie implies, the only two murders he committed for sure are Becky’s and his own mother’s.
This does not look sleek enough to belong to the big screen despite the attractive cast. I do not lament the lack of gore and violence, but rather, the lack of more insight into what produced a sociopath like Lee Lucas. The flashbacks shed a bit of light, but they are fairly simplistic and a little predictable. This makes it more of a forgettable TV movie that’ll keep you entertained for a bit but won’t stay with you for long.
Director Michael Feifer seems to be adding to his portfolio of movies about serial killers (Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, Richard Speck, the BTK killer, and the Boston Strangler are a few he has already covered), clearly aimed at a younger audience rather than middle-aged crime thriller aficionados.
Everything is just too glossy. There are a couple of uncomfortable moments, but not nearly enough grime and squalor as the subject requires, especially as we know about the sorry lows of Lee Lucas’ early life.
There is more than a passing nod to Natural Born Killers and Kalifornia (wishful thinking!), although the filmmakers try too hard to make Lee Lucas sympathetic, and you hardly ever get past Antonio Sabato Jr’s matinee idol looks and the accent, which seems sometimes a little comedic.
Having said that, Sabato Jr isn’t as bad as you might fear, but script and direction aren’t particularly inspired. We have seen other more successful attempts to insights into the mind of sociopaths elsewhere.
Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer it ain’t.
DVD extras include a commentary with director Feifer and Sabato Jr and English subtitles.
Henry Lee Lucas: Serial Killer is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.