Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Director Report Card: Frank Henenlotter (2008)

6.  Bad Biology

After the release of “Basket Case 3,” Frank Henenlotter seemingly disappeared for sixteen years. In actuality, the director was pursuing his passion as an archivist for sleazy, weird, and obscure cinema, as a major contributor to Something Weird Video. Of course, there were other reasons. It’s never been easy to secure funding for Henenlotter’s bizarre visions. “Bad Biology” is a project that would come about because a rapper named R.A. the Rugged Man wanted to work with Henenlotter. The production would suffer from money disappearing, actors leaving and locations becoming unavailable. Midway through filming, Henenlotter would be diagnosed with cancer. Frank would beat the disease and “Bad Biology” would finally squirm onto DVD in 2010. Though not widely seen, it was well received by fans of the filmmaker’s weirdo stories.

“Bad Biology” concerns two individuals with unique bodies, destined to encounter each other. Jessica, a professional photographer, has hyper-active genitalia. Her sexual cravings are out of control and impossible to quench. Her metabolism is such that she frequently gives birth to malformed, inhuman babies. Her quest for satisfaction often turns deadly. Following an accident at birth, Batz performed experiments on his own equipment. This resulted in him growing a oversized penis with a mind of its own. Once Jessica gets a glimpse of Batz, she’s determined to couple with him, convince he’s the man she’s been waiting for her whole life.

By the time Henenlotter returned to the world of movie making, it was much harder to shock audiences. To give you a good example, “Bad Biology” was released on home video the same year that Tim Six’s shit-eating opus “The Human Centipede” took the world by storm. Maybe the director wasn’t trying to be more shocking. Maybe the world just caught up with his sick imagination. Either way, “Bad Biology” succeeds at the difficult task of being the director’s most outrageous film. The script’s unending deviant sexuality insured that an MPAA rating would never be possible. Ultimately, “Bad Biology” continues Henenlotter’s obsession with deformity, human freaks, and people on the fringe of society.

“Bad Biology” is undeniably a low budget affair, unpolished and sometimes tossed together. It shows the director returning to the home made, unfiltered weirdness he began his career with. This roughness is most evident in the script construction. “Bad Biology” sometimes plays more like a novel then a movie. Characters will often speak directly to the audience, making extensive use of voice-over narration. The film is somewhat awkwardly broken into three halves. The first act focuses exclusively on Jessica and her hyperactive reproductive system. The second act turns to Batz’ monstrous member. The last third details Jessica’s attempt to hook up with him. It’s not Screenwriting 101. Considering Henenlotter is hardly a rookie, I can assume the movie’s uneven structure was intentional. It makes it clear that the guy does thing his own way.

Considering his blatant debt to exploitation cinema, it’s never been wise to read into the gender politics of Henenlotter’s films. “Bad Biology,” however, seemingly invites it. In the first scene, Jessica explain how nymphomania is a creation of the sexist patriarchy and that she may be the sole exception to that rule. In a grotesque variation of third wave feminism, she sleeps with any willing man in the hopes of satisfying her twisted desires. In one scene, she’s even something like an avenger against asshole men. One of her many dates pretends to be sensitive to get into Jessica’s pants. After the sex is over, he abruptly leaves, dropping all the pretty language. In response, Jessica bludgeons him to death with a lamp. You can even read into the way Jessica dismisses her barely human off-spring. I doubt any of this is meant to be taken very seriously. But it certainly makes “Bad Biology” different from Henenlotter’s previous films, which were predominantly male focused.

For a film with a ton of human flesh on display, “Bad Biology” is also willing to engage in discussions on voyeurism. With her job as a photographer, Jessica spends all day looking at people through a camera lens. She snaps photos of the men she sleeps with during orgasm, capturing their faces contorting in pleasure. Even the ones she kills, making the photos something of a trophy collection. In a weird way, this turns the male gaze on its head, as Jessica sees her sexual conquests as nothing but means to an end. Later on, the film does another switcharoo on this concept, literally taken the point of view of a penis as it stares down naked women. Considering “Bad Biology” is obsessed with pornography and nudity, it’s smart that Henenlotter wove this interest into the story’s threads.

“Bad Biology’s” raw qualities aren’t just apparent in its somewhat messy screenplay. The acting has been widely referred to as bad. The original actress cast as Jessica dropped out before filming began. The woman who got the job, Charlee Danielson, was the girlfriend of producer and co-writer R.A. the Rugged Man. Danielson’s performance starts out as slightly flat. Her line reading sometimes lack emotional and borders on expositionary. However, as the film progresses, Danielson seemingly becomes more comfortable on-screen. She is on the film’s sick comedic wavelength and regularly gets laugh from the absurdist dialogue. By the end, I was even convinced that she gave a good performance. Or maybe I had just gotten use to her unique delivery.

“Bad Biology” focuses less on obvious human deformities then Henenlotter’s previous films. Make no mistake though, Jessica and Batz are as freakish as Belial and Little Hal. The director’s attention turns towards the fleshiness of human sex. One especially sickening shot has the camera looking out of Jessica’s labia, giving us a closer peak at her unique biology. The sequences devote to her giving birth take place in a dingy bathtub, an abandoned car, or a back alley. The camera lingers on the squishy, bloody, twitching off-spring. This is way before we get a look at Batz’ monster cock. Even without the explicit grossness of its duel protagonists, “Bad Biology” would display an interest in the unpleasant contours of the human body. During a photoshoot, Jessica has the models wear vagina masks on their face, dehumanizing the girls, reducing them to literate sex objects. While there’s probably something there, the scene is mostly devoted to how gross this is.

Of course, “Bad Biology” is not the first film to feature a literally murderous dick. However, the amount of attention the film focuses on Batz’ bizarre equipment doesn’t go unnoticed. In order to keep the beastly meat sated, he injects it with drugs. The guy has rigged up an elaborate machine, with multiple spinning wheels, pumping pistons, and leather straps, in order to facilitate masturbation. Before the actual shaft wiggles on screen, we often see it springing inside Batz’ shorts. He has one-sided conversation with his dong, not unlike how Duane and Belial psychically communicated. It’s obviously juvenile and deeply weird. Yet where else are you going to see shit like this?

An actor named Anthony Sneed plays Batz. According to the film’s theme song, he was found on MySpace. Sneed is a slightly more centered performer then Danielson. Batz is more-or-less written like a junkie, looking for hits of horse tranquilizer in order to control his psychotic schlong. His first scene has him eavesdropping on two teens discussing penis size in a fast food joint, which concludes with him vomiting. Sneed is good at sweating and freaking out which was obviously required for the part. He even manages to insert some tenderness into Batz’ freakish situation. He thinks about the normal girl, and normal life, he could’ve had if gifted with a less unusual physiology. It’s hardly a subdued performance. Then again, nothing else about the movie is subdued either.

Of course, Frank Henenlotter wasn’t going to write a story featuring a killer cock and not exploit that to its full potential. After going undoped for several days, Batz’ one-eyed monster somehow slithers loose from his body. The perilous prick then goes on a rampage through the neighbor, bashing its way into several homes and assaulting the women inside. This sequence is “Bad Biology” at its most outrageous. For some reason, all these women are hanging around their houses either nude in or their underwear. The montage is shot like a cheesy monster movie, the bruising boner taking the place of the creature. This is especially apparent when the thing crawls up a shower curtain next to a busty bather. It’s completely insane, utterly ridiculous, and deeply childish. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t laugh.

Frank Henenlotter loves his monsters. This was clearly on display throughout the “Basket Case” films and even in “Frankenhooker.” And like many monster movies, these story often ended in tragedy. “Bad Biology” doesn’t feature any traditional movie monsters. However, there’s still something tragic to the way the story unfolds. Jessica has soon gone completely insane by the story’s mid-point, razing about how she wants to have sex with God. This pays off fantastically at the end, as she babbles in religious awe after being united with Batz’ wang. It’s played for laughs yet, notably, both of the main characters end up dead, consumed by their passions.

Like everything the director has made, “Bad Biology” isn’t for everyone. The film might not even be for people who liked Henenlotter’s other movies. It’s a lot less slick then the “Basket Case” sequels, less sophisticated then “Brain Damage,” and doesn’t have the crowd-pleasing hilarity of “Frankenhooker.” Truly patient fans of demented cinema will probably find a lot to like here. “Bad Biology” is a sick, crass, perverted movie and gleefully so. Yet there is a brain behind the madness and skimpy production values, making the movie more then just a gross-out experience. It’s also pretty funny, assuming you find shit like this funny. I do! [Graded: B]

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