Monday, March 4, 2024

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Part 2 (1996) & The Hitcher II (2003)

Thanks to boutique physical media labels, Arrow Video & Umbrella Entertainment, I had recently upgraded to glorious new transfers for two of the best horror offerings from the year 1986. That being, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer & The Hitcher. Both are unnerving and intense thrillers that have stamped their legacy among the best of the entire decade. So instead of reviewing those, I’m looking at their direct-to-video counterparts. D’OH!

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 2, Mask of Sanity (1996). Because with a name like that, you need a sub-title. The story finds Henry, sometime after the events of the first film, befriending a damaged couple and their emotionally unstable niece, dragging them into his world of murder and depravity. That’s about it. It’s dull. This plays as a much lesser retread, which has to fall on the director/writer, and change of cast. Most notably, Michael Rooker, who brilliantly portrayed the titular character (loosely based on real life killer, Henry Lee Lucas) in the original, does not reprise his role here. This time, the role of Henry was played by Neil Giuntoli, who Seinfeld fans may remember as Kramer’s movie bootlegging friend, Brody. Death Blow, anyone? Anyway, I can’t put the blame solely on him, he’s fine, but you just can’t come close to Rooker’s surreal performance. 

Director/writer, Chuck Parello, doesn’t match the bleakness and dirty feeling you get after watching John McNaughton’s first film. It feels cheap. It feels like a straight to the shelves of your local Blockbuster Video film. Considering that’s where I initially saw it, mission accomplished, I suppose. 

Parello did manage to find a niche for himself in the True Crime arena, later directing the 2000 film, Ed Gein, and 2004’s The Hillside Stranger. The latter, starring C. Thomas Howell. Which reminds me, segue.

The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting (2003). C Thomas is back behind the wheel as his character from the original, Jim Halsey. Hey, you know what, that’s a great start. I wonder how he felt about returning to that role after such a long break.. 

“That was probably a mistake, to be honest. It was mishandled”. “The whole thing was just a real mess, It probably should’ve never been made. And thankfully, nobody really even knows it exists”. Oh boy.

Set many years after the first movie, Jim, who is now a police officer is suspended from the force after an incident on the road. Needing to clear his mind, he and his girlfriend (Kari Wuhrer) take a trip to visit an old friend, but as the title suggests, trouble is always lurking abound. They meet up with our new hitchhiker, Jake Busey. What ensues is a generic paint by numbers retread, that makes me wish I didn’t just use that same description for the film above. But damnit, this movie SUCKS. 

Let’s start with the title, ‘I’ve Been Waiting’. This would suggest that our new antagonist, Jake Busey is somehow related to Rutger Hauer’s John Ryder from the first film. Wrong. He’s just a random guy, he holds no connection to either of our two leads which makes zero sense in why he cares so much about them. Within two minutes of picking up Busey’s character along the roadside, he decides he’s going to make Kari Wuhrer’s life hell. Meanwhile, C Thomas has convinced himself that Busey is somehow the reincarnation/reimagining of John Ryder. But again, that’s nonsense. 

I’ve enjoyed all three of these actors in several projects, but everyone is given absolutely nothing with its dreaded dialogue and story. Busey plays the exact opposite of Hauer. John Ryder was menacing, you feared for your life around that character. Busey is so over the top, and not in a fun way. Wuhrer’s line delivery is cringey and wooden. And SPOILERS cause who gives a shit, C Thomas dies within the first third of the movie. Any interest in how this plays out is gone for the remaining 60 or so minutes. 

No need to stop for this one. As a matter of fact, feel free to splash it with mud as you drive by. Or leave it in a suitcase on the side or the road. See, full circle. 

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