Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Frank Nightingale - How Henenlotter was always by my side

Howdy horrorphiles, and a happy 2011 to you all. As the haze of ringing in the new year fades along with the ringing of my two ears, I present the first injection to kick off this century's adolescence. I have had enough of the best of 2010, it's so last week, and I made it safely through without writing some painful list of things that were either popular to like, or popular to rag on. It's just, so last week. Last year, even. But in the new year, in order to move forward, it is important for one to reflect. So I present my small tribute to one of my favourite film makers, Frank Henenlotter, a man whose movies represent my idea of outrageous fun and pure enjoyment. Frank thankfully returned to our screens in 2008 after a very long break from directing, which made me more excited than a 5 year old on Santa's knee. But there was a time, of course in  my foolish youth, when I was not even aware that one man was responsible for all these cinematic delights. Perhaps this realization was a part of my passage into foolish adulthood. Let's explore these movies in the order I saw them.

There was a joyous time before the advent of the infomercial and cable TV in Australia when the screen would come alive after midnight with movies that could not be shown during prime time, thankfully my parents were honest and hardworking people who simply ceased to function after about 10pm, so run of the kitchen TV was always mine. The tiny screen would glow through the night, my hand always close to the volume to quieten screams and squelches and boost dialog to an audible level. One night, during a routine milk and cookie run, I flicked on to see what was on offer. The picture had a very strange glow and the colors were all wrong. Great, I thought, the TV has finally had the dick. I soon realized I had stumbled into the disturbing world of Brian and Aylmer.

Brain Damage (1988)
I couldn't believe what I was seeing at first. It seemed too good to be true, as quite often I tuned in to a late night movie having missed most of the action. In this case, I was lucky enough to take in the greater part of this cerebral and unnerving outing. The misadventures of Frank and his newly acquired alien brain Aylmer may seem like a totally trashy romp at first glance, but the themes of desperation, addiction and control are explored with visceral aplomb. As a youngster, I was fascinated by the effect that Aylmer's addictive brain secretions had on poor Brian, the hallucination sequences and insanity suffered were attractive prospects to a pre-teen already well versed on the topic of drugs, particularly LSD. The impact this film had on me was long lasting, and it was years before I tracked it down and watched it again. Of all Henenlotter's films, this one remains my solid favourite.

Basket Case 2 (1990)

At this point I was only 13, and was familiar with the film "Basket Case" only from it's VHS cover, boasting a quote from a review: "The sickest movie I've ever seen" - hence this movie sat in the "someday" pile of my mind, something to look forward to once I was allowed to rent the coveted R-rated selections at Videomania. It was a great surprise one week to see that a sequel had come along, and it was reviewed on the weekly movie show, usually reserved for more mainstream fodder. But famed Australian critic David Stratton could not resist, and after watching the footage, I knew I had to convince my dad to take me to the movies. He caved, and we had a genuine moment of bonding watching this much lighter and more comedic sequel - the amazing cast of freaks that join Duane and his vicious, blobby separated twin Belial in their quest to be understood completely blew my mind. This soon became my favourite movie of the moment, and one I was always convincing my friends to watch, and subsequently judging them based on what they thought about it. In a way, I am lucky to have seen this first, as the mystery of the original film would remain in my eternal curiosity, lurking, like a vicious blob in a basket...

Frankenhooker (1990)
This was it! My moment of realization, that amazing epiphany where all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Upon seeing the cover for this film in the video store, I instantly knew 2 things. The first, of course, was that I wanted, nay, NEEDED to see this movie. The second thing was (upon reading the tagline "From the creator of Basket Case and Brain Damage!") understanding that one film maker knew how to push all of my buttons, and deliver everything I was wanting out of horror movies at the time (and still do). Frank Henenlotter's Frankenhooker. This is zany fun at its very best, a medical student attempting to resurrect his bride-to-be after a hilarious (and of course, tragic) lawnmower accident - only to create a monster that retains the mindset of the prostitutes whom he cut up for parts. "Wanna DATE?" - Once again, Henenlotter's genius in disguising serious themes behind all the fun is evident, in this case the subject of obsession and unhealthy desire is explored throughout this classic romp.

Basket Case (1982)
My moment had finally come - probably about 15, my dad agreed to let me rent Basket Case, as he remembered how much fun we had watching the sequel, and I had also recently introduced him to Bud the CHUD, so he saw no harm. The shock I experienced seeing such a raw and unforgiving tale was very real. The sense of uneasiness created by this film still stands strong today, despite it being limited by budget, the suspension of disbelief will carry the average film goer above this, and leave them wanting a shower or in need of some light hearted relief. It's gritty, seedy and raw, and a carries similar desperation in main character  Duane to Brian in Brain Damage - but for an entirely different reason. Is Belial really just a reflection of himself? Do we all have a nasty little blob telling us to do despicable and horrific things? And how long can we keep this hidden in a basket? This is such an important genre film, at a time when many films were going the way of the watered-down slasher, this bad boy stood up and slashed everyone in the face with long dirty claws.

Bad Biology (2008)
As I mentioned earlier, when I heard about Henenlotter's return to film making, I was completely overjoyed, and also very surprised to hear about his collaboration with RA the Rugged Man, who I was familiar with only from his hip hop music - it all seemed unreal, and I kind of waited to wake up from an annoyingly realistic dream. But NO! It was for real, and after watching this movie, 18 years worth of "hole inside" was instantly filled by a tale of a woman with 7 clitorises. This is an amazing film, capturing the true spirit of his other movies - something with a seemingly ridiculous subject, over the top delivery distracting the viewer from the very real and addressable themes. In this case, sexual identity, desire and corruption of self lurk behind the inevitable meeting between the irresistible pussy and the immovable penis. The added element from the world of hip hop, including star cameos, made this the most satisfying film I saw that year, and something that made me believe again!

Now, I understand I have left out Basket Case 3, but you can fill in the blanks on that one. I was thrilled to recently have a very quick chat online with Frank, and it was wonderful to finally thank him personally for the many years of enjoyment... This is in no way an interview, but I'd like to share it.

Ratman: Greets from Australia Frank! Seeing Brain Damage on late night TV as a youngster was a revelation, I forgot the name of the film and sought it out for years after that, so I guess I've been a fan before even I knew it! I was THRILLED with Bad Biology, and amazed at the collaboration, as I am also a big hip hop fan, love RA and find these are 2 worlds which don't cross that often.... Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Frank: Well, thank you, Joel. Brain Damage and Bad Biology are my two favorites. I don't know a thing about hip hop music, but I like the way it was used in Bad Biology. It felt right to me.

Ratman: Well take it from a real hip hop head, it was a treat! And J-Zone gave a really great performance. Can't wait to see what's next from you, I'm just so glad you're back.

Frank: J-Zone was phenomenal. We wrote some crazy dialogue for him and told him to make it crazier. We didn't know what the fuck he was talking about but it was great. He was great.

Ratman: He's a clever cat, one of the best humorous rappers around, but always regarded for his skills as an MC. His album "A job ain't nothing but work" was an instant classic. The more I found out about RA after seeing your film, the more amazed I was - I also notice that you've written other scripts with him? This excites me, as does your HGL project.

Frank: Yeah, I wrote a couple of scripts with RA but they all scared investors too much. Which is why he basically financed "Bad Biology" himself.

Ratman: An amazing achievement, I sincerely hope that with the success of the film, your bleedingly obvious devoted fan base and other factors will all contribute toward moving forward and turning out more all time cult classics. I must thank you so much for taking these moments to chat to me, it's a wonderful experience after 25 years or so of enjoying your work! I think I now need to write an article about all this, I'll be sure to post it here when I am done.

Frank: It's been my pleasure.

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