Even slasher-movie fanatics will be disappointed by "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 2 --- Mask of Sanity," a grim and plodding low-budget drama that likely will fast-forward to homevideo. Nominally a sequel to John McNaughton's notorious 1990 shocker loosely based on the life and crimes of mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas, pic is a crudely constructed and surprisingly dull time-waster. In the title role originally played by Michael Rooker, Neil Giuntoli is a sullen and stocky drifter who takes a matter-of-fact approach to dispatching randomly chosen victims. Pic begins with images of battered and bloodied bodies, then introduces Henry as he prepares to murder a woman (Penelope Milford) in a secluded storage building. The actual killing takes place off camera, but the sounds of struggle and death are clearly audible.

Even slasher-movie fanatics will be disappointed by “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 2 — Mask of Sanity,” a grim and plodding low-budget drama that likely will fast-forward to homevideo. Nominally a sequel to John McNaughton’s notorious 1990 shocker loosely based on the life and crimes of mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas, pic is a crudely constructed and surprisingly dull time-waster.

In the title role originally played by Michael Rooker, Neil Giuntoli is a sullen and stocky drifter who takes a matter-of-fact approach to dispatching randomly chosen victims. Pic begins with images of battered and bloodied bodies, then introduces Henry as he prepares to murder a woman (Penelope Milford) in a secluded storage building. The actual killing takes place off camera, but the sounds of struggle and death are clearly audible.

After a brief stop in a homeless shelter, where Henry witnesses the rape of an elderly man by a wild-eyed lunatic, Henry lands a job with a company that rents and installs portable toilets. Kai (Rich Komenich), a burly co-worker, invites Henry to stay in his home until Henry can find an apartment. Once he moves in, Henry meets Cricket (Kate Walsh), Kai’s attractive wife, and Louisa (Carri Levinson), Cricket’s troubled niece.

For a while, Henry manages to behave himself. But his self-control begins to ebb when Kai reveals he works part-time as a professional arsonist. Kai offers Henry a piece of the action, and Henry accepts. In turn, Henry introduces Kai to more violent crime when they find a couple of crack-smoking derelicts in a building that Kai has been paid to torch. Henry shoots one of the unfortunate men, then hands the gun to Kai, who finds it unexpectedly easy to pull the trigger. Kai continues to trust Henry as a cohort, even after he sees Henry casually kill a panhandler merely because the guy tried to clean Kai’s windshield.

When he’s not busy burning buildings or randomly killing, Henry develops a tentative friendship with Louisa, an art student whose drawings are almost as violent as Henry’s murder sprees. She develops a crush on Henry, and threatens to commit suicide if he doesn’t run away with her. Not surprisingly, nothing good comes of this.

Under the uninspired direction of screenwriter Chuck Parello, “Henry 2″ is a flat, monochromatic bore. To Parello’s credit, the full-bore gore is limited to just a few scenes. But even when things get bloody, pic remains monotonous in its stripped-down minimalism. Maybe Parello intended “Henry 2″ as some kind of statement about the “banality of evil.” What comes across onscreen, however, is a by-the-numbers psycho-killer melodrama that isn’t even lurid enough to be genuinely offensive.

Performances by Giuntoli and most of the supporting players are no better than they have to be. Levinson is the sole standout: She offers a compelling portrayal of Louisa as a bespectacled waif who mistakes Henry for a soul mate. Of course, considering the violence of her artwork, maybe she’s not so mistaken after all.

Production values reflect a tight budget. Still, Michael Kohnhurst deserves credit for his moodily lit cinematography.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 2 - Mask of Sanity

Production

A Maljack Films production in association with H-2 Prods. Produced by Thomas J. Bush. Executive producers, Waleed B. Ali, Malik B. Ali. Directed, written by Chuck Parello.

Crew

Camera (color), Michael Kohnhurst; editor, Tom Keefe; music, Robert F. McNaughton; production design, Rick Paul; art direction, Angela Howard; costume design, Patricia L. Hart; sound (Ultra Stereo), Jake Collins; assistant director, Gary B. Goldman; casting, Suzanne Gardner. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 17, 1997. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Henry - Neil Giuntoli
Kai - Rich Komenich
Cricket - Kate Walsh
Louisa - Carri Levinson
Rooter - Daniel Allar
Woman in Woods - Penelope Milford
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