The wonderful world of Frank Henenlotter's films.
Just recently a good friend of mine opened up the discussion of directors who had a signature style. Nearly instantly, Mr. Henenlotter's name was brought up.
Known for his whacky unusual stories, all of which for the most part center around the gritty darker side of New York city while just beneath the surface there is a colorful zany world packed full of creatures created from Henenlotter's brain. Here we see that when you remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of usual excitement and danger, there are other threats, ones that are truly completely out of this world.
I remember back in high school a friend of mine came over my house for a movie marathon in which he brought a handful of his own movies to watch. One of which was Basket Case, a film I had vaguely heard of before, but had never seen. That evening, I witnessed Henenlotter's true freshmen effort after three pervious smaller projects. This Time Square black comedy had the perfect blend of gore, horror, and over the top moments. We witnessed the tale of Duane, a lonely young man who carries around a basket which happens to contain his horribly deformed brother who was removed from his body as a child. The thing is, his brother Belial actually carves human flesh and blood, and has been Duane's deepest darker secret as he hides out. The remainder of the story shows the darker side of the city, and brings up the question what is actually happening in the apartment/motel room next door? Ending violent, the movie became a cult classic, and has gone on record as being one of TV host's Joe Bob Brigg's all time favorite movies.
In 1988 Henenlotter took ten steps further with his next project. The highly underrated Brain Damage. It took me years to finally get around to watching this. In fact I think it was even after I saw Frankenhooker. Brain Damage always caught my interest from the brief clips I had seen floating around the internet as well as the stunning alternate artwork for the VHS. In fact years ago I was able to find that very same VHS for 50 cents at a local record store. There I watched it for the first time and was completely blown away. (No pun intended.) This movie hands down might very well be my favorite Henenlotter film. It tells the story of an elderly couple who live in New York and one evening the husband returns from the butcher with a bag full of animal brains, remarking to his wife on how he rather not go to the usual butcher since he asks too many questions, and cracks jokes about the highly unusual order. The wife tells him how much "He" will love them, before going into the bathroom and screaming in horror. Here they both run into the doorway of the bathroom and see a filled up bathtub with nothing inside. The two go into a frenzy, screaming, and destroying the apartment looking. What they are looking for exactly? Well, we find out very quickly. Down the hall lays Brian. A handsome young twenty-something who is woken by his brother and girlfriend, having to break plans since he woke up feeling, and looking terrible. Letting his brother go with his sister to the concert they originaly planned on attending together, Brian lays in bed only to awake a few hours later feeling weak and dizzy. Here he goes to the bathroom before feeling a bite he can't quite see on the back of his neck. When he tries falling asleep again, he wakes up to find his pillow and sheets drenched in blood. There he suddenly becomes overcome with a mind bending high which becomes the ultimate trip. Feeling the hallucinogenic effects. it isn't long before he discovers a ugly talking parasite named Aylmer who tells Brian he'll continue injecting him with his powerful fluid which shoots straight to his brain as long as he remains fed.
For the remainder of the film, we watch Brain fall down the rabbit hole, completely becoming obessed with this little creature that attaches itself to his neck, making him feel the mind altering effects. Tripping, and becoming consumed by this new addiction, it's all he can think about. Sadly as he's completely blinded by this high, he doesn't see whenever he ventures out, Aylmer attacks innocent bystanders feeding off brains. It isn't long before Brain wakes up to the fact Aylmer is committing murder, and swears enough is enough. That's when Aylmer shows how intelligent he really is when he informs Brian that if he isn't fed, he'll no longer inject him with the fluid he's become so dependent on. Here Brain tries to quit cold turkey, only to see it's impossible. The last act of the film is truly a anti-drug statement. It was the 1980's, coke was in, and people were becoming addicted to speed, coke, crack, pills, what have you. These were the days of party drugs, where the effects didn't last long, leaving you wanting more and more. This movie shows how completely taken over an innocent man becomes when he becomes dependent on a drug which is lethal for not just him, but the others around him. The final scene in my eyes is one of the most beautiful poetic endings to a horror movie ever. One of my all time favorite themes has to be the ending credit score to this film.
In 1990 Henenlotter went on to make his biggest camp fest yet.
The film tells the story of Jeffery, a failed medical student who has a taste for the bizarre when it comes to his experiments. One summer afternoon a horrible freak accident takes the life of his precious finance' Elizabeth chopped up to pieces. In the weeks following her sudden death, Jeffery becomes withdrawn, and it's quickly revealed that he stole her head from the crime scene, and has plans on re-building his long lost love by finding the perfect parts by examining New York city hookers. Here we makes a blood serum that can re-animate dead flesh. Going into the city, he rents out a whole group of women by the pimp Zorro, and looks over every single part before deciding he just can't pick one. Here when guilt starts to build up, everything completely goes to shit when the women discover his super crack rocks he brought to originally kill whichever one he was going to choose and kill. Here the women party hard core before the effects of the crack take hold, causing the entire group of women to blow apart. Sounds crazy? It is, but trust me this is what makes this movie which a classic, and such a great time. Scooping up as many parts as possible, he hurries back to his lab, and re-builds Elizabeth just in time for the lighting storm that's about to hit. Once she's re-animated, Jeffery's plan has slightly backfired since even though Elizabeth is back...she's half back. In fact, she's a little fucked up, as well as serving all the typical gestures, and one-liners a street walker would use. Here she utters her famous line "Wanna date?" before stumbling back to the city.
What follows is complete B movie zany fun.
A modern cheesy take for the classic tale of Frankenstein, has become something of cult classic legend. With the beautiful Patty Mullen playing Elizabeth with her signature side mouth move, and that stunning purple hair, as well as James Lorinz's adorable Jersey accent, it's a match made in Heaven only Henenlotter could make. I myself have been lucky enough to meet both Patty and James and they are hands down the nicest people I've ever met at a show.
Henenlotter went on to also direct two more installments in the Basket Case trilogy, adding a little more light hearted humor to the series, as well as welcoming a whole new family of freaks which in my eyes displays some of the greatest practice original movie effects I've ever seen. Whenever people try to bitch and moan about how the 1990's were the death of horror for a short period of time, I roll my eyes. I in fact actually like Basket Case II and III over the original. Here the film is kicked up ten more notches, and seems ten times more crazy, colorful, and fun. Picking up directly after the originaly film, we find Duane and Belial having survived the drop from the building in part 1. Escaping the hospital, and finding help with Granny Ruth, she brings them to her home where she shelters other freaks who all live together as one big giant family. Here the brothers dodge some nasty reporters who have following them, wanting to blow the cover off this secret world, unlucky for them they don't know who they are messing with.
My favorite things about this movie are the other freaks. I watched this movie with a few friends of mine from makeup school and we honestly had to applaud the fact that all of these creatures were original ideas, each topping the next. At one point we even tried to figure out how many part molds it took for one certain mask. My personal favorite is the half moon man who in part 2 is played by Flyboy himself David Emge from Dawn Of The Dead. I love that such an iconic actor from one of the greatest zombie movies is completely unrecognizable in this role. Just another fun Easter Egg for fans.
The craziness continues with part III which just like the pervious installment picks up directly after part II when Duane discovers Susan his "perfect" girl isn't exactly perfect. She's been hiding a little something. After a terrible accident, Duane snaps and attempt to sew his brother back to him. In this film, Granny Ruth tells Duane a few months later that Eve, Belial's girlfriend is pregnant and about to give birth. Any movie where two deformed monsters are having mind blowing sex is a classic to me. Here Ruth rounds up the freaks to go on a road trip and visit Uncle Hal and Little Hal for Eve to give birth. I've said it before, I wish these movies had a spin-off TV series. I seriously could have watched these creatures every week. Henenlotter seems to be having the time of his life with these sequels, making them funny, over the top, and like a visual fun house. The birth scene of course is my favorite with Little Hal seriously losing his shit as more and more babies appear.
There is of course the classic jailbreak scene where some of the greatest on screen deaths are displayed. Long live practical effects!
These movies go to show how much we would have wanted more, or even sequels to Frankenhooker and Brain Damage. With his signature crazy creatures, and colorful screenplays, Henenlotter took a back seat for directing before 2008 rolled around and he made Bad Biology which of course is classic Henenlotter at it's finest.
This over the top sexual twisted love story is yet another underrated classic of Henenlotter's and the big return to directing we had been waiting for. Now still keeping busy with current projects, Henenlotter is one of my top picks I know I just need to meet and thank for all of the amazing crazy films he's made over the years. What I've always respected for this man is how he never swayed from his usual style. That he stayed true to what world he made, and never went along with the "normal" style of storytelling.
Thank you Frank, I'm looking forward to what you have store for us in the future!!!