The Henenlotter Effect.
I recently bought the (quite frankly) cult classic Brain Damage by Frank Henenlotter, the king of modern day exploitation and it got me thinking that there really isn’t that much in the way of articles or written info on Mr Henelotter, particularly since he went into semi-retired after Basket Case 3. So I thought I would show my appreciation for this crazed eccentric and un-pc film maker because as of last year he is finally back on the independent horror scene again with the gloriously distasteful (albeit in the best possible sense) “Bad Biology”.
My first introduction to Frank Henenlotter was with his first feature, the 42nd street classic (and possibly one of the last runs of exploitation films in the 80s) “Basket Case”, with crude stopmotion a highly downbeat ending and the concept of brotherly love twisted on its head the film screamed cult classic to me. It felt (during my first viewing) like a dirty little secret, almost as though I was not supposed to watch it , I mean any film that centres around a man carrying his deformed twin in a large wicker basket and known as the “Bradley Twins” (who are murdering the doctors that separated them), is not going to be a “normal” viewing experience.
The low budget and use of rundown grimy interiors just adds to the cheap appeal of the feature which contains a certain appeal through its crudeness and generally dark comic tone , due in part to the over the top violence. The particularly unperfected stopmotion to animate the deformed Belial in several instances (which Henenlotter admitted to not having the patience for) again adds to the low budget charm and for me includes something oddly compulsive as he goes on a killing rampage for vengeance. As high concept exploitation films go it’s a simplistic concept but one which works amazingly well within its limited budget, still remaining one of my all time favourite trashy horror classics.
It took Henenlotter 6 years before he released yet another cult classic this time with “Brain Damage” and in my opinion the best of his directing features (and certainly his most accomplished) there is no “difficult second feature” syndrome here. The story concerns that of Brian who, while ill in bed has an alien like slug attach its self to him, injecting Brian’s brain with a blue hallucinogenic fluid causing him to trip out and see bright lights. But like any kind of drug dealer Elmer (or Almer as he is revealed to be called) only allows Brian another hit if he takes Elmer for a “walk” or to correctly put it find hapless victims he can suck the brains out of while Brian trips the light fantastic. It isn’t long before Brian clocks on to his plan, but is he powerless to stop Elmer from taking Brains?
The film has an interesting take on drug addiction particularly concerning a campy horror film made in 1988, and even more interesting that Henenlotter decides to use the calming tones of veteran creature feature host John Zacherle for Elmer.
There is one truly glorious un-pc moment that generates more laughs then disgust (certainly is the case on repeat viewings), as it concerns Brian in a New York club under the influence of the blue fluid. He suddenly gets the attention a local clubber leading to a making out session, but with a difference just as she is about to give him a “happy ending” Elmer shoots out of his trousers and straight into her mouth causing her to go backwards and forwards as he eats her brain from inside.
The effect is amplified with the use of blood and slime make-up, some could see this in poor taste , but the effect is so funny to behold that in all seriousness it ultimately adds to the camp appeal of this particular B-movie , and shows what Henenlotter is best at…..Being gloriously and unequivocally the king of un-pc horror filmmaking.
All of this combined, together with a brief cameo by Dwayne Bradley and his mysterious wicker basket, make a fully campy horror gore classic seek it out and you might just enjoy it.
In part 2 I’ll be discussing :