Tag Archives: Frank Henenlotter

REPORT: BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 2016

The final weekend in March saw a sudden influx of weirdness to the Boston area with the arrival of the 18th annual Boston Underground Film Festival, the region’s primary hub for new independent genre fare. Ever concerned with keeping the 366 Weird Movies community up to date with the latest in the bizarre, I took in a few of the weirder-looking titles (minus the special Belladonna of Sadness screening, which I reported on from Fantastic Fest).

sundance-the-lure-image-2

The Lure (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska)

In her first feature, Agnieszka Smoczynska brings to life a delightfully strange genre mash-up that combines elements of fairy tale, horror, romance, coming-of-age drama,  and dark comedy, played out in catchy new wave musical numbers and set against a slightly surreal Soviet backdrop. With a loose, dreamy narrative structure, the story follows the adventures of mermaid sisters Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) as they come ashore in Warsaw and establish themselves as a musical act at a seedy nightclub, shacking up with the house band, an eccentric mother/father/son trio. The sweet-natured Silver begins dating the son, a hunky but noncommittal bassist, though Golden warns her against the consequences of falling in love with a human. The sisters experience the ups and downs of life in show business (drugs, sex, betrayal, etc) while also occasionally feeding their lust for human blood.

Yes, The Lure has a lot going on, and yes, it is overly ambiguous at times, but if you aren’t completely entranced by a lush, synth-driven musical about killer mermaids then I don’t know how to help you. The film is at times funny, at others tragic, and frequently strange and viscerally gross. The locations pair dingy interiors and rain-soaked streets with neon lights and sequined costumes, with subtle reminders of the Soviet regime peppered throughout. The soundtrack, composed by Ballady i Romanse (a real-life sister act who partially inspired the film’s premise), is absolutely stellar, emotionally varied but generally sticking to the 80s discotheque vibe. While it offers weirdness in spades with its many genre oscillations, perhaps what is most notable about the film is how it subverts tropes relating to gender and sexuality. Silver and Golden are introduced as the typical seductive sirens many myths associate with mermaids, but their naiveté is soon made clear. They are viewed as sex objects from the beginning, but also treated as children due to their lack of understanding of the human world, a sly commentary on the sexualization of young girls so dominant in the media. A cult-friendly oddity with a feminist slant, The Lure is the first List-worthy release I’ve seen this year.

Chasing Banksy

Chasing Banksy (dir. Frank Henenlotter)

Largely based on a true story, indie horror favorite Frank Henenlotter‘s latest film focuses on Anthony (Anthony Sneed, playing a version of himself), a street artist struggling to make it in New York, who hatches a wild scheme to steal one of the Banksy artworks that popped up in the American South a few years after Hurricane Katrina. He enlists a few artist friends to help him out for a share of the Continue reading REPORT: BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 2016

LIST CANDIDATE: BRAIN DAMAGE (1988)

DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Rick Hearst, John Zacherle, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry

PLOT: One morning a young man wakes to find a small, disgusting creature has attached itself to the base of his brain stem. The creature gives him a euphoric state of happiness but in return demands human victims.

Still from Brain Damage (1988)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The above plot description, which is lifted verbatim from the IMDB, describes the “creature” in question as “disgusting.” Not only is this an offensive description, but it outright ignores the fact that the thing has a name: Aymler, or “the Aymler,” more specifically. The unique little guy is far more than just a “creature”; he’s without doubt one of the most charming and well spoken horror presences to ever grace the silver screen. Or, at the very least, he’s the star of Frank Henelotter’s best film.

COMMENTS: Frank Henelotter’s brief heyday in the nineteen eighties is most well remembered through Basket Case, and the lead and his deformed brother of that mondo horror fest have a cameo here. But it’s Brain Damage that is Henelotter’s best film (to date ?). After befriending the Aymler, a seductively smooth talking parasite voiced to perfection by late night horror host John Zacherle (i.e. Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul), our anti-hero struggles with his own doubts, desire and addictions as he is seduced to corruption by the charming but evil creature. Henenlotter’s trademark gore-filled whimsy is on full display here, benefited by his highest budget to date. The film works as a pretty clear cut metaphor for drug addiction on the surface level. The out-there hallucination scenes, which could be compared to certain points in ‘s Altered States, are where the weird tag comes in. The movie also makes use, though admittedly sparingly, of some well-produced stop motion animation sequences, which are a joy to behold those that love this now largely forgotten art. It’s arguable that the List doesn’t need to be populated with a plethora of oddball cult horrors that may be best left on the dusty VHS rack where we found them, but if one Henenlotter film should go on, this is the one. It combines peculiarity with some actual filmic worth. A must see for weird horror aficionados; if you fall into that category and you somehow haven’t already seen this yet—what have you been doing all this time?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While it would win few prizes for narrative sophistication and visual imagination – the euphoric hallucinations seem to have strayed from a ’60s LSD movie – Brain Damage does display a commendable social conscience in deploring the perils of mindbending substances.”–NF, Time Out London

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: BAD BIOLOGY (2008)

DIRECTED BYFrank Henenlotter

FEATURING:  Charlee Danielson, Anthony Sneed, Mark Wilson

PLOT: Mutant genitalia drive their masters to stalk, copulate and kill.

Still from Bad Biology (2008)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Bad Biology is a campy shocker about rogue sexual organs.  It’s camp value stems from the director’s willingness to pull out the stops and include any bizarre scenes he deems appropriate, rather than from inferior filmmaking or a desire to make the movie look cheap or corny.

COMMENTSFrank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage) finally got a decent budget and made his most delightfully freakish, slick and naughty movie yet. The opening line consists of a mutant girl (his real life girlfriend , the very pretty Danielson) stating, “I was born with seven clits.”

Jennifer is a living sexual anomaly and nymphomaniac perpetually seeking satiation as she struggles to puzzle out her destiny.  She mates, gestates and conceives in only a few hours, often inadvertently killing her partner and depositing her malformed, monstrous issue in any convenient waste receptacle.  Believing that she is deified by her “gift,” she considers herself to be a genetically advanced Eve.

Batz is a nervous stud with a personified penis that behaves more like an evil conjoined twin than a sexual organ.  A side effect of steroid abuse, it has a mind and a will of its own.  It is in the habit of detaching itself to embark on its own adventures . To keep it under control, Batz consumes powerful cocktails of animal tranquilizers.  This only curtails its wanderings.  It still dances in his pants to the beat of its own drummer, literally.  Batz’ bat is capable of inducing perpetual (i.e. permanent) multiple orgasms in his, or rather, its dubiously “lucky” partners.

The two sexual mutants, with their latently homicidal sexual super apparatuses, consume a succession of vapid sex partners as they strive to satisfy their own demented appetites—and to control, or perhaps just placate, their throbbing, pulsing, oozing out of control reproductive organs.  That is, until they “meat” each other.  Bawdy, tawdry, seamy, sordid, ribald and every bit as prurient, squishy, disgusting and hilarious as one could hope, Bad Biology just has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…more out-of-control than anything the director has done.”–Matthew Sorrento, Film Threat (contrmporaneous)

CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Kevin van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner

PLOT: Duane checks into a derelict Times Square hotel carrying a wicker basket under his arm; inside is something about 1/4 the size of a person, that eats about 4 times the hamburgers a person would.

Still from Basket Case (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Most people will go through their entire lives and never see anything as weird as the micro-budgeted cult shocker Basket Case.  A fine little offbeat exploitation shocker, the flick makes a late-in-the-game play for true weirdness with a strange dream sequence that sees Duane running naked through the streets of New York as a prelude to the film’s most shocking development.  To us, however, Basket Case shakes out as nothing more (or less) than a fine example of a unique, campy monster flick with only marginally weird elements.  That’s just how selective we are with our weirdness.

COMMENTS:  One of the secrets to Basket Case‘s success is that it positively oozes indecency and vice, but isn’t mean-spirited or sadistic.  Director Frank Henenlotter nails the aesthetic of sleaze, and for the most part keeps on the right side of the fine line between trash and crass, only crossing over briefly once or twice so that we know where the border is.  You emerge from a screening titillated and pleasantly shocked, but not feeling like you have to take a bath or go to confession.  The setting—the 42nd street red light district as it existed in Times Square in the early 1980s—creates an immediate atmosphere of moral and social decay.  Since renovated and Disneyfied, back then the neon-lit 42nd street was an avenue where you could walk past peep shows and marquees advertising “3 Kung Fu hits!” while being propositioned for weed, heroin and/or whores by strangers.  The scenes Henenlotter shot Continue reading CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)