Haunted Honeymoon

Interview: Frank Henlelotter (Bad Biology, Basket Case, Brain Damage)

In my younger days I would spend hours standing in front of the horror section at the local video store. The big boxes and their promises of blood, sex and violence felt like home to me for some reason. Of the titles that I rented the most there was one that got on my mothers nerves like no other, that movie was Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case. After several viewings of Basket Case I started trying to find other movies by Mr. Henenlotter and eventually films like Brain Damage and Frankenhooker found their way into my life. I’ve held a soft spot for Henenlotter’s movies mainly because they are just plain fun. Now Frank Henenlotter has once again blessed the world with another film titled Bad Biology, a twisted film indeed. Recently I was able to talk to Mr. Henenlotter and ask him a few questions about what he has been up to, Bad Biology and his memories of the 42nd Street era.

You were absent from directing for a while and became involved with Something Weird Video, what exactly is your involvement there?

Oh I’ve been involved with them for a while. I stayed mostly in the background, Randy and I found tons of old Asian and exploitation films and we thought why not expand the company. The fun is rescuing films the rest of the world wished we would leave alone.

Something Weird actually has a channel on digital cable?

Yeah it’s Something Weird on Demand. Because it’s an On Demand Channel I don’t think you can use nudity but its all weird sh*t and it’s free so it’s not too bad.

I read that you spend your younger days on 42nd Street during the height grind house era?

Yeah I grew up in Long Island I used to cut high school when I was fifteen years old and go down to Manhattan and Just spend all day long at the movies. The problem was cramming so much in; there was just so much to see. Eventually I moved to Manhattan and I just lived on 42nd Street around the clock, I’m talkin’ seven days a week. It was paradise absolute paradise. You had to check there everyday cause there were always a couple bills that would only play a couple of days and they weren’t advertised in the papers so you had to go there and prowl the streets and watch the marquis and hope you caught something in time before it disappeared.

What is your favorite memory from that time?

Oh dude tons! You watched it with a crowd so there were constant fights going on, there was sex going on. There were weird characters that lived there. It didn’t distract from the film, it heightened the experience! It was just so great! If the show was boring the audience would get angry and start throwing things around the theatre or just take out a radio and start playing music loud to drown out the soundtrack (laughs). All kinds of weird sh*t going on there!

I grew up in the mom and pop vhs rental era. I’ve noticed that even since then the art of the distribution image is starting to fade away….

On 42nd Street it was even more exciting because the artwork they had was painted or pasted onto plywood that would go around the entire theatre in places like the archway where you would just walk around all of this artwork. It was always scenes from the movie and as long as a girl had big breast she was on the poster. And they would paint blood over people’s faces it didn’t matter if it was supposed to be there or not. And it would have words on it like LURID, SEX and VIOLENCE you know it was marvelous! They also used to have instead of photos out front you had one sheets and lobby cards all of that is gone now. I mean I don’t even make lobby cards anymore.

Movies are so sanitized now with the shopping mall theatres that there’s no hardcore exploitation to get you into the theatre. I’m a sucker for cheap artwork. You promise me tits and promise me blood and I’m in there. I believe every stupid claim that the film offers and that was half of the fun. My movie experience was based on poster art and how it got me in.

That happened a lot to me with the VHS boxes….
That’s one of the things I liked back in the early days of VHS it was the big box things with the most Lurid covers. Do you remember the covers for Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs?

Yeah I do (laughs)

With the actual frame blow ups! I mean they had to recall Color Me Blood Red, actually they recalled all three of them. I still have it on my shelf because it’s so perfect!

The grittiness of New York City was captured in your early work. Now I lived in NYC around 2000 and 2001 and they cleaned it up so much, a lot of what you filmed had changed. I read that you chose to shoot in Brooklyn to get that same vibe?

That’s something else the 42nd Street I grew up on does not exist today literally. The theatres are all gone and the buildings are gone. You know they took down those buildings and they moved a theatre they rebuilt everything there’s no semblance of the old days there. And Times Square is all cleaned up; it used to be a great paradise of grind house movies and p*rno shops that was the fun of it. Now it’s all family restaurants and McDonalds and Disney all for tourists. I never go in that area anymore.

As for Bad Biology we filmed it in Brooklyn because that’s where the mansion was. We still filmed a couple scenes on the streets of New York, but the story played so well in the mansion that we just kept it there.

Now I saw that the mansion was haunted, any ghost stories?

Well I have plenty of them R.A. (Bad Biology producer R.A. the Rugged Man) swears up and down that it’s all bullsh*t but there’s enough crew members that were genuinely spooked by stuff. I understand some people scare easily but I have a couple of friends who really took that….

Let’s put it like this. The second day I was out at that house and I was standing in the street and a woman neighbor in a bathrobe across the street calls over to me “What are you doing?” 

And I said “We’re filming a movie here.”

And she goes “Oh you’re filming a movie in the spook house!” (Laughs)
So then in the mist of all the people claiming to hear footsteps and banging my younger brother shows up with some other detectives and if you know anything about detectives they are hardcore. They don’t scare easily and they also had no idea about any of the circumstances surrounding the film. So my brother comes in and they’re off duty so they aren’t wearing uniforms but they had such cop attitudes that when they walked in and my brother said “Where’s Frank?” Our PA’s didn’t answer them because they immediately figured the cops were there to arrest me, so they didn’t say anything. So my brother yells again “Where’s Frank?” And they all surrendered fast and pointed to the third floor which is wear I was. So my brother comes up with his friends and they look around to see what we’re doing and I told them to go browse around the house, there’s twenty two rooms go ahead and take a walk.

So they’re walkin around and one of the guys opens up the stairway to the back and he goes “OH! Jesus!” and my brother ask him what was wrong and the guy said “Didn’t you feel that?” and none of them felt anything so the guy said “Well I’m not walkin’ up there!”
So my brother comes up to me a few minutes later and he says “Hey Frank is there anyone here saying this place is haunted or anything creepy going on?” He didn’t know about it and look what happened. So you know draw your own conclusion put it like that.

During the filming of Bad Biology you didn’t allow the crew to have a script?

Yeah because I had two crews that walked out on me once before. At the ending of Basket Case the crew walked out and during the blow job scene in Brain Damage they walked out. So I don’t have patience for that when I’m making a film, and I really did’t want them to start thinking this is a p*rno. I didn’t want them to think its some d*ck movie or something like that. I didn’t want any preconceived attitudes about this so I just figured its better not to let them have the script. The two leads were offered a complete script but they also chose not to read the other ones part. They thought it worked better if they didn’t know what the rest of the film was.

It worked better except for the day about two weeks into the shoot when Gabe Bartalos showed up and he brought the penis ring out and attached it to Anthony Sneed! Every bodies eyeballs popped and their jaws fell out and there were a few moments of shock on the set like “What in the Hell are we doing?” But then it was too late it was like “C’mon c’mon let’s get going!” I never heard any complaints about the film that way.

Relationships are a huge plot device in your films like in Brain Damage, Basket Case and Bad Biology is there a reason?
It just makes good drama doesn’t it? You know better than just one guy with no motive. And every bodies either in a relationship or searching for one. So I think it’s very dramatically exciting that way, besides what other relationship are you gonna have with a monster huh?

You guys casted Bad Biology yourselves?

R.A. did all the casting

And how did he go about that?

Well R.A. knows a lot of people and he did it through Craigslist and he just knows a lot of people. He would meet people and videotape them and send me the tapes. Probably the most unusual bit of casting was the guy at the begging of the film Mark Wilson who plays the character of a guy that the character Jennifer picks up at a bar and he’s very rough and you know she turns the tables on him. That was somebody who was eleven days out of jail! He was a real hardcore con and R.A. knew him from the days before he went to jail. So R.A. videotaped him and showed him to me but didn’t tell me anything, didn’t say anything about his background. I took one look at the guy and though “Oh my god he’d be great for the guy at the beginning!” and he was.

Any plans to make any cuts for a possible theatrical release?

Nope we’re not doing any ratings so it doesn’t matter. This would be ridiculous to get this cut to an R. I think it’s an R but I’m sure no one else agrees with me. I don’t think we need a film running ten minutes. It would be pointless to submit this for a rating.

It passed in the UK without any cuts?

True! Yeah in the UK they classified it as a fantasy.

Really?

They didn’t even classify it as a horror film. They also got the joke not like the censors in the past, they got the joke!

While the remake trend is going on has anyone attempted to contact you to attempt a remake of one of your older films?
There’s been a few half hearted nibbles at Frankenhooker, but I didn’t like what I heard so I wasn’t interested. I’m not ad versed to any of it I’m surprised no one’s jumped on Basket Case yet, but nobody has.

I’m not opposed to remakes completely I mean without remakes we never would have had Christopher Lee as Dracula….
That’s true! I guess it depends on what they’re looking for and how they do it. A remake of Basket Case could make Belial more convincing. There would have to be a reason for a big budget remake.

What future projects do you have for us?

Well the most immediate is a documentary on Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Awesome!

I directed it with Jimmy Baslin and it’s produced by Something Weird but its not coming out Something Weird it’s coming out as a legit documentary. They are doing color correction on it now so hopefully we can get it to some film festivals in a couple of months.

Any last words for your fans?

Meaning Like I’m gonna die this afternoon?

No (laughs)

Like please bury me somewhere (laughs) don’t let me lie on the floor too long (laughs)
No I would just say I hope you enjoy Bad Biology its not your average horror film, in fact I’m not even sure it is a horror film so don’t approach it as one and hopefully you’ll get a lot of laughs out of it and you’ll still be appalled.

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