How Did a Dealer Asking for More Money for Professional Wrestling Footage Lead to the Film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: A dealer raising his price for professional wrestling footage led to the making of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

In 1984, Malik B. Ali and Waleed B. Ali hired a young film student, John McNaughton, to direct a documentary about gangsters in the 1930s.

The documentary was called Dealers in Death: Murder and Mayhem in America, and it was narrated by the classic film star Broderick Crawford.

You can watch Dealers in Death for free on! Just click here to watch it.

The film was a minor success (it made money, at the very least), so the Ali brothers figured McNaughton could do another movie for them. This time, they decided on a documentary about professional wrestling in Chicago in the early 20th Century.

The brothers knew a man who was willing to sell a lot of now public domain footage of early professional wrestling.

However, when the deal was just about to be completed, the man asked for a lot more money (I believe double the original asking price, but I could be wrong). The Ali brothers backed out of the deal. What happened next changed a number of careers!

Now they had a certain amount of money earmarked for a movie and nothing to do with it. So they went to McNaughton and basically said, “Here’s $110,000 – make us a horror movie.” They had no specifications besides that the film have a lot of blood in it (and, well, that it would be a horror movie, of course).

McNaughton began searching for a topic and, as luck would have it, he happened to catch an episode of 20/20 which profiled a serial killer named Henry Lee James.

With that fellow in mind, McNaughton set off to create a low-budget horror film about a serial killer titled, appropriately enough,

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Starring Michael Rooker as Henry, the film was acclaimed for the fresh, realistic (and therefore, even more chilling) approach that McNaughton and Rooker brought to the film.

McNaughton soon began directing major motion pictures, such as…

Mad Dog and Glory…

and Wild Things…

And Michel Rooker became an established actor, leading to many roles, including his recent turn on The Walking Dead as Merle…

And to think that things could have been dramatically different if only a guy hadn’t backed out of a deal for wrestling footage. Maybe we would never have had Merle!!!

The legend is…


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