The Makers of ‘Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer’ Are Adapting Flannery O’Connor

Published on May 26th, 2017 in: Books, Feminism, Movies, Upcoming Movies, Upcoming Releases |

By Tim Murr

I have three literary moms, three women writers who had a profound impact on the way I think and write: Lydia Lunch, Kathy Acker, and Flannery O’Connor. I was introduced to all three within about a year of the other and afterwards I was never the same.

In my first college English course we studied O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” her short story from 1953. I was first floored by the pure, dark, nihilism of the story and then with each re-reading, I was impressed by some other aspect, especially the rich characterization of a (then) modern Southern family in silent conflict with an over-bearing, nosy, and selfish grandmother. Tennessee Williams had nothing on O’Connor.

The family dynamic was only a part of the story, which opens with a Georgia family of a father, mother, son, daughter, and baby heading to Florida for vacation, with the paternal grandmother instigating herself into the proceedings. A sub-plot begins to slowly bubble to the surface when, coinciding with the trip, three men escape from prison and are on the run. The worst one is called The Misfit. He represents the darkness that has seeped in and consumed the modern world. The world was better in her youth, the grandmother reckons, as the elderly often do. After a car accident, fate brings the family in contact with the Misfit and his fellow escapees, who show up in a hearse (of all things).

Character drama becomes horror show as the father and son are escorted into the woods, followed shortly by two pistol shots. Then the mother, daughter, and baby are taken away for the same appointment with death. All the while, the Misfit sits with the grandmother, who pleads and reasons until she breaks and accepts her fate, recognizes her end, and in a rare moment of grace and goodness tries to comfort the Misfit, calling him one of her own children and trying to touch him. He responds by shooting her three times in the heart. He then tells one of his associates, Bobby Lee, that “she would of been a good woman if there had been some one there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

As a long-time horror fan, I was definitely used to all levels of violence and mayhem, but this wasn’t a horror story. It seemed to me shockingly fierce for the era, considering that it wasn’t written by Jim Thompson or a James Cain. The depths plumbed by O’Connor felt like male territory, one in which she just confidently strode out into the middle of the field and planted her flag.

O’Connor wrote several short stories as well as the novel Wise Blood, which was adapted into a wonderful film starring a young Brad Dourif. I’ve never come across a story written by O’Connor that didn’t touch me on some level. “All of my stories are about the action of grace on a character that is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, and brutal.” It’s easy to make that assumption (I did) if you just take the stories at face value. O’Connor is as quintessential a Southern writer as Faulkner or Williams or McCarthy because of the depth of her conviction, her willingness to not just hold up a mirror to the world, but to look into that mirror herself, and address unflinchingly the very foundations of our flaws and failures, but without ever losing sight of the light.

Now, almost 70 years after its publication, director John McNaughton is reteaming with actor Michael Rooker to bring “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” to life. The two first worked together on McNaughton’s second feature Henry; Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Rooker played the title role ferociously. I saw the film when I was only twelve and was completely unprepared for how gritty, fucked-up, and real it was. I wouldn’t even call Henry a horror movie, as Henry Lee Lucas was a real-life serial killer and the movie exists in a class all its own.

Rooker will be playing The Misfit in the new film and I cannot think of a more prefect casting choice. Even playing monsters, like Henry or the racist sadist Merle on The Walking Dead, Rooker delivers chilling performances that are also so human that it’s hard to take your eyes off of him when he’s on screen. And in lighter roles, interviews, and even social media the man is so damn likable that more of him is always welcome.

Unfortunately we don’t know a release date yet, but it’s never a bad time to either revisit or get acquainted with the work of Flanery O’Connor. If you want to see Michael Rooker in one of his best roles, ust last year Dark Sky Films released a 4k restoration of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

By the way, here’s O’Connor herself reading the story in question…

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