Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hooray for Henenlotter!

It happened like this, at least to the best of my recollection, for much has happened since then, many mind altering substances have been consumed, and the passage of over a decade has fuzzied the mind. But this night I am about to describe to you changed me into the movie watching obsessive I am today. I would like to remember it just as I do, fondly, nostalgically, and given my tendency for hyperbole, with a bit of dramatic exaggeration.

I was over at my friend Rachel's dorm room, getting ready to go to our weekly Goth dance night. Although it would take nearly forty-five minutes for me to pack Rachel into her corset, we'd be ready long before it was fashionable to enter the club. We liked to get a head start, looking as fabulous as possible for as long as possible. Eyeliner applied and boots firmly laced up, I suggested we go get a coffee and maybe watch a bit of a movie before we walked through campus to the bar.

Rachel then told me there was a new shop that opened up right down the road from her dorm - it was called Diabolik - and it seemed like it specialized in something we'd be into, given the sign. Maybe horror movies? Maybe spooky decor? Hard to tell from the nondescript store front. Just a dark sign with white jagged lettering. So cool. How could this have opened and I was not informed, I wondered. I ordered Rachey to stop primping so we could go check it out.

A few blocks later, we were pushing our way into the store. It was a video rental place! All VHS (well, this was the mid-nineties) and all horror! I felt like I had died and gone to hell, in the best way possible. )And this was before I was the absolute supreme horror geek I am today. I mean, I was into horror movies back then, but over a decade has passed, so I'm even geekier today.) We didn't know what to do with ourselves. The place was all gothed out, too, skulls and spiderwebs and a red velvet couch. Tattered drapes. A lecherous creepy proprietor that swore he knew Rob Zombie. Oh, I wish it was still there! (But alas, Richmond wasn't ready for something so cool, and it still isn't some thirteen odd years later).

But anyway, to cut to the chase and to quit waxing sentimental, I rented BASKET CASE that night and got to Goth night way to late to hear all my favorite Apop and Iris songs because I was too enraptured with the movie that unfolded before my budding horror geek eyeballs. BASKET CASE was my first foray into the seedy early eighties 42nd Street universe of director/writer/editor Frank Henenlotter and it wouldn't be my last. Just last night, I watched BASKET CASE and BRAIN DAMAGE, both for about the one-hundredth time and they've only gotten better.

BASKET CASE is truly a wonderful cult classic and a shining example of how low-budget movies should feel. It's ingeniously twisted in every regard and establishes itself firmly as unpredictable and hilarious throughout. Duane arrives in grimy Times Square carrying his former conjoined twin, Belial, in a wicker basket. Belial is truly a sight to behold and why he hasn't been canonized as one of the classic movies monsters of all time is really unbeknownst to me. With some clever practical effects and stop motion animation, special effects guys Kevin Haney and John Caglione, really outdo themselves. Belial is not only believably grotesque, he almost managed to exhibit deep emotion, in the fact that he has been separated from his brother. I've never seen a puppet emit so much pathos ;)

Without going into too laborious of detail since this should be your favorite movie as well, Duane and Belial are on a mission to right what has been wronged, with some hilarious and outrageous moments along the way. The amateur cast handles the bizarre subject matter masterfully and manage to help the film achieve an incredible weirdness that is usually unattainable. Although it was followed by two unfortunate sequels, BC is and always will be one of my favorite films. Its regard for sex, suburban dysfunctionality, and even drug use give the film a slimy, if not even tangible atmosphere. I'm right there in Times Square with Duane and Belial and a host of other weirdos. It's the perfect cinematic slice of that era.

BRAIN DAMAGE, Henelotter's second flick, one of the most violently anti-drug films this side of BLOOD FREAK, is the story of Brian and his pet monster, Alymer. You see, Alymer is this ages old disgusting sentient parasite that feeds on brains, the more human the better, and is capable of injecting whoever is in possession of him with a strong hallucinogen. When Brian comes into possession of Alymer, the parasite begins to take control and Brian descends into a very drug-like addled state. People die and things get bloody, as well as trippy, but the violence isn't so much as realistic or horrific as it is outlandish and comic. There's plenty here reminiscent of BC, the setting, a strong underlying sexual element, the weak protagonist. But as mentioned earlier, this movie has a great deal to say about what addiction can do to a person and his or her loved ones and how drugs change people. It's a great study, over-the-top, but with a message. And I love it!

Frankie also directed another Cavalcade fave, FRANKENHOOKER, which is exactly what it sounds like, and I'm sure it's at least in your top 20, so I won't keep you. I just wanted to give a shout out to two of my favorite movies of all time - smart and silly, but definitely still horror movies. Although I'm not a huge fan of the overt horror-comedy, Henenlotter did it well, if not the best, and he did it almost thirty years ago.

And these better not get remade! I'm warning you! And by you, I don't know who I am specifically addressing, but the sentiment is there!


  1. "Basket Case" is a weird little movie and probely best remembered for this film, rather than it's questionable sequels which followed, proving against that some horror films, just don't need a sequel (I.e Psycho, The Fly, Saw etc)and should be left at one film sole movie, but alas, while there is money to be made, the studio bosses will always demand, for those sequels to be made.

    I've yet to see "Brain Dead" though thanks to the UK title of Peter Jacksons "Dead Alive" which over here was released as "Brain Dead", which always seems to be the only Brain Dead I can find, if you exclude the clerks who keep trying to fob me off with the Peter Jackson film.

    Thanks for helping me reminise about an seriously overlooked classic.

  2. It's the weird little movie that could, EJ! That's unfortunate about not ever being able to see Brain Damage/Brain Dead - I know a lot of folks even stateside refer to Jackson's Dead Alive as Brain Dead and then I start getting confused, but these confusions of mine happen often, so no one ever gets alarmed :P

    And thanks for stopping by; I hadn't heard from you in awhile :)

  3. Nice write-up. I think I may have to squeeze in a BASKET CASE review sometime soon! It's been a while since I've seen it but I do like it a lot and actually gave it a good write-up during No Comment's infancy. But do you really think Henenlotter is consistent enough to deserve such accolades? And why was/is he so hit or miss? Where do babies come from? Answers, Jenn!

  4. Henenlotter's not hit or miss. Yes, the sequels were damnable, but really, what sequels aren't (exception being BOF)? What about Tobe Hooper? Seen anything he's done lately?

    And a magical stork brings babies in the night and drops them down chimneys. Duh.

  5. OK, first off, ALL HORRROR??!!?1zsddf~~~WW~~~!!!! Thats the single greatest rental place I have ever heard of. I wonder if its still around...

    Point the second, BASKET CASE is definitely a standard by which Indie Horror should be judged. The awkward animation and acting only add to its quirky charm. I dont have a strong affinity for the sequels, but the original holds a soft spot in my heart as well.

  6. 'Basket Case' hits me on a level I try not to talk about at parties- the subconscious.

    On a superficial level, the film works anyway as a solid horror splatter piece with a rubber monster in it. But I find with each viewing, it pushes so many buttons...duality of personality, anxiety in the urban setting, paranoia, familial's all there. For some reason, also best explained by my subconscious, I tend to lump 'Basket Case' with 'Re-Animator'. My psyche loves the notion of keeping something alive- something very ghastly, potentially dangerous, even homicidal. Be it a deformed twin, a severed speaks to some of my obsessions. I kept working at a horror script for FIVE years. It was deformed. Ugly. It taunted me. People I showed it to recoiled; it simply would NOT work the way I wanted it to...and yet, inexplicably, I tried to keep it alive. I was obsessed. It was my 'beast in the basket', my 'Monster in a Box'. It was...utterly incomprehensible to others why I kept the deformed 'script' alive, but I could not let it go. It was an obsession that nearly killed me. It is now dead and buried.

    But still, in the dead of night, I can hear it calling...

    Well, that was more than I meant to say! Let me finish by saying I think this is a terrific blog, and I look forward to following it enormously.

  7. Carl, it was a cool little store, but he closed up shop after maybe a year or so. Richmond's just too small a town to appreciate something so cool.

    Mandingo, I loved your comment, you really spoke to a lot of the stuff going on in my head about BC - I always lump it for some reason with It's Alive - I think given the fact they're both great monster movies, but there's something a lot deeper at work as well. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. wow! I remember Diabolik! The owners name was Donnie and he would always talk about his store in Los Angeles and all of his famous customers.
    Great blog btw.

  9. What's up, Dan? Yeah, he would always say shit like, 'when Wes came in,' or 'Rob and Sheri...blah blah' and we were always like, okay, whatever. He was cool though. The store was fucking awesome.

    Thanks for stopping by!