Exclusive Interview: Frank Henenlotter!


The Basket Case director returns with Bad Biology

As a native of Long Island, New York, I can’t help but have a strong affinity for the films of fellow New Yorker Frank Henenlotter.

Back in junior high, my best friend’s mother worked at the same police precinct as Frank’s brother and as lifelong horror fanatics we couldn’t help but get giddy by that fact that we were two degrees away from the director of Basket Case. On top of two Basket Case sequels, Henenlotter also helmed the trippy yet deranged Brain Damage (which featured a brain parasite voiced by famous horror host Zacherley – the “cool ghoul”!) and the cult horror/comedy classic Frankenhooker, which you can count Bill Murray among one of the films’ biggest fans.

While keeping busy over the years by helping expand the cult exploitation library of Something Weird Video, Frank Henenlotter is finally back with his new film Bad Biology, co-written and produced by famed rapper and friend R.A. “The Rugged Man” Thorburn.

In a synopsis that would be a bit too X-rated for this site, just trust us when we say it’s in line with the usual bizarre lunacy you can expect from all of Frank’s movies. Shock had the privilege of sitting down with the normally reclusive filmmaker and chatted about his entire career.

Robg.: Frank! First and foremost, I have to say…welcome back!

Frank Henenlotter: Thank you! [laughs]

Robg.: For a while there were several different movies that you were attached to make. One was Sick In The Head, which I believe Fangoria Films was going to do at one point. So, how did you end up deciding on Bad Biology as your new film?

Frank: Well, all the others either fell apart or fell through, or there was something in them that I didn’t like at the last minute. And what made Bad Biology work was the freedom, because R.A. “The Rugged Man” [Thorburn] had the money and he’s one of my friends and it was him and I making the rules, nobody else. So we could just go nuts with it.

Robg.: Speaking of going nuts with it, it feels like an un-commercial movie…

Frank: No, I disagree. I think it’s a very commercial movie. It’s just not mainstream. Mainstream and commercial are not the same thing.

Robg.: Then let me rephrase that, it’s not exactly a mainstream film. Was that ever a concern going in to make this, or did you and R.A. figure “let’s just do what we want?”

Frank: You know, I think it’s a very commercial film for people that are sick of the mainstream. That’s all. I think it’s going to do well on DVD. It’s not going to be a favorite of the people who want the same conventional stuff. But that was the point.

Robg.: I wanted to talk about the casting process for this. Considering the subject matter of the movie, was it difficult to find Jessica? Did you have to say much to convince Charlee Danielson to play the lead?

Frank: No, it actually wasn’t difficult at all. Just the opposite. Charlee was going out with R.A. at the time. She read the first 30 pages of the script and she asked us if we would let her do. She loved the character and I was thrilled when I heard she wanted to do it. But even then, I tried to spook her a bit and scare her off. And she didn’t get scared, thankfully, because she really was just what I wanted. She was absolutely perfect. She’s got this fragile beauty, she’s like the girl next door. She’s not the kind of person you’d expect to star in this film and go as crazy as she does. An absolute delight to work with.

Robg.: How about the other lead, Anthony Sneed as Batz? Did he come in and audition for this? Or did you already know him?

Frank: Anthony I think heard about the film on Craigslist. He came to an audition and at the time he looked a little too…well I’m so overweight so I can say it. He looked a little plump. He was a little too healthy. And I said he didn’t look like the kind of “junkie” we needed for the character. So, he said “Fine, I’ll lose 30 pounds.” And this was 30 days until we started shooting. I figured “Yeah, right.” And I never thought of him again, but sure enough he showed up 30 days later and lost 30 pounds for the part. I was so thrown by that commitment. I thought if you’re really going to drop 30 pounds for this film, then I’ve got to take you seriously and I did. And he was great.

Robg.: When exactly did your relationship with R.A. start? Because the first time I remember seeing you two together was for the featurette on the Basket Case DVD where you’re both visiting the old shooting locations for that film.

Frank: When he was 19 he was signed to Jive Records and he called me up and asked if I’d do a music video for him. I knew nothing about hip-hop, but I thought yeah, it’d be great to do it. It was an interesting collaboration at first because I didn’t understand half of what he was talking about! Every time he’d say something to me, I’d have to say “What does that mean? What does that mean?” Literally, he would translate it to me. And the same thing, I would say something to him and he’d ask, “Well, what does that word mean?” But we got along fine and had a great relationship. We did the music video for Jive, it was called “Bloodshed Hua Hoo.” From there, we had a great friendship.

Robg.: On Frankenhooker, you collaborated and co-wrote with former Fangoria editor Bob Martin, who also wrote the novel version of Brain Damage. So how did your collaboration with R.A. on Bad Biology differ from your previous collaborations with Bob on your earlier films?

Frank: It really wasn’t much different, it’s pretty much the same. Collaborating is great because you’re playing handball. You’re constantly asking, “Can you top this?” with your partner in it. I think it was the same with Bob and R.A. You just keep going for that extra joke, that extra bit that’s going to push it over the edge. I couldn’t have done the films by myself. That’s how you get good ideas is you work with good people. And Bob Martin was exceptional and R.A. was exceptional. That’s how you do it.

Robg.: You’ve got a few cameos and familiar faces in Bad Biology. First of all, Tina Krause?

Frank: Yeah, she worked on a couple of the videos that I did for R.A. I did a couple of R.A. videos, but just didn’t sign my name to them. I used the name François Pinky. Just so people didn’t think those videos were horror films. She’s in one of the videos that’s on the Bad Biology DVD.

Robg.: And also you’ve got Beverly Bonner who’s appeared in all of your films turn up in Bad Biology.

Frank: Yep, yep. She’s a good friend and I love having her in the films and she’s always good. If an actor or actress makes you laugh every time, why not keep using them? I had [Frankenhooker, Basket Case 2 producer] Jim Glickenhaus do a little cameo also as the magazine editor.

Robg.: You’ve also worked with FX artist Gabe Bartalos five times, from Brain Damage and on. Can you talk a bit about your working relationship with him over the years?

Frank: I love working with Gabe. When you know somebody, you trust them, it makes the collaboration a lot easier because I can talk to him in shorthand. When we create a creature, it’s nice because we both feel authorship over it. When it’s done, I honestly feel it’s mine. He honestly feels it’s his. And we’re both right. It’s really wonderful.

Robg.: You obviously have an artistic background, so how much time and focus do you and Gabe spend on creating the creatures that are in your films? Because they’re always so distinct and unique. You know a creature from a Frank Henenlotter movie when you see it!

Frank: We spend a lot of time, but I tell Gabe what I want. He takes and turns that into 3D. He’s the guy that spends all the time creating it and nurturing it and building it. Not me. And then I come in at the end and say well, we can have this or that, or it’s perfect. That’s all. He does the backbreaking work on it. [laughs] Some of his ideas are so radical and out there. He’s one of the few people I encourage and say, “Surprise me. Go for it.” And we did! Some of the stuff like “Twister” in Basket Case 3 was a freak that I just couldn’t believe I was seeing when I first saw it.

Robg.: Basket Case is probably your most well known film, because it’s part of a franchise. Would you be opposed to ever revisiting it? Whether it be a sequel, a Basket Case 4 or a remake? How would you feel about another Basket Case movie?

Frank: Well, I’m not going to do anymore Basket Case movies. I shouldn’t have done Basket Case 3. So I ain’t doing anymore. Basket Case 2 I like and am very happy with.

Robg.: The ending to Basket Case 2 is still one of my all time favorite endings to a horror movie!

Frank: I agree! I like Basket Case 2 a lot. I understand people might not like it because I went in the opposite direction, but I already made Basket Case 1 and I didn’t want to repeat it. I wanted to go in another direction. Basket Case 3 was a disaster. Less said the better. If somebody wanted to do a big budget remake of the original, I think it would work. That’d be fine. But there’s no point in doing a low budget remake of it because that’s been done!

Robg.: So you’d be okay with a remake if the right person did it and did it justice, so to speak?

Frank: Yeah, of course. Sure.

Robg.: What exactly is your role with Something Weird Video?

Frank: I’m still with Something Weird Video. I’m partners with them. Mike Vraney owns the company. He and I are great friends, in fact, I spent the last five days just hanging out with him up in Seattle. We kick over projects and kick over ideas. When an idea goes, I go with it. For the DVD’s for example, I wrote all the copy for every DVD jacket, the text on the back, I put almost all the extras on them and I just have fun with it. It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had working with Something Weird Video. With rescuing and finding the films, I was there from the very beginning of it when we found this great hall of films in 35mm, all these lost exploitation films. We thought well, let’s do something with them.

Robg.: Were these the types of movies you remembered and liked, stuff you saw when you were younger at theaters on 42nd street?

Frank: Oh yeah, but I didn’t see all the sexploitation stuff, because 42nd Street was more than that, but I grew up on 42nd Street. From the age of 15, I would go there and then when I moved to Manhattan, I literally just lived at the theaters there. They didn’t have VHS in those days or home movies, so I had 42nd Street and Times Square. I was there everyday seeing multiple films. That’s all I did from morning till night was see movies. It was the greatest paradise I’d ever had.

Robg.: Frankenhooker is another one of your films that I love. The hooker explosion sequence is one of my favorite things in any of your movies.

Frank: Oh, that exploding hookers scene, of all the stuff I’ve ever done, that’s my favorite sequence. I mean, everybody should explode hookers. It just doesn’t get better than that! [laughs]

Robg.: Didn’t Gabe read that and initially think, “Oh cool, we can make this gory” and you said, “No, I want them to explode like fireworks!” [laughs]

Frank: Gabe’s first reaction would be to do blood and gore and I wanted to turn it into a fireworks display. I thought it was more patriotic and more Fourth of July. If it was blood and gore, I don’t think it’d be funny. But exploding hookers with the stars and stripes, I thought that was funny. It took Gabe two seconds to say, “well, alright!” It was hilarious. And it was also insane doing it! It really was! We didn’t know how many explosives to put in those mannequins. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know how we were going to blow them up. A lot of it was chance. I remember, we were shooting in slow motion to capture it, but it was fantastic to have these explosions and it was raining body parts down on us. Just marvelous and an insane way to make movies.

Robg.: One of the coolest things about Frankenhooker is you’ve got the great Bill Murray quote on the poster and the box!

Frank: Here’s the story behind that. Bill Murray was mixing his film Quick Change in the day time, and we were mixing in the same studio in the evening. So, we were overlapping and he was seeing our stuff and just couldn’t be any friendlier. He had all these toys in the place and he was sharing them, he started watching the film and started hanging out. And then eventually, he was asking “Can I see reel 2?” and stuff like that. Someone at Shapiro Glickenhaus got wind of it and they started calling his office and asking for a quote. And that really horrified me. Because Bill was being so generous and friendly and all of a sudden, this seemed whorish of us to come out and say “what can we get out of this?” I was so embarrassed. He wouldn’t return the calls about the quote and I was humiliated that they’d even ask. He never gave us the quote and that was that.

One day, I’m walking toward the Brill Building where Sound One had their offices and SGE had their offices and I see Bill walking a couple of feet ahead of me, and I was so embarrassed by them asking him for the quote that I didn’t want to encounter him. So I started slowing down, thinking he didn’t know I was behind him. Then he started slowing down. So, I stopped walking and he stopped walking. And then he went, “Fraaaannnk?” I have no idea how he knew I was behind him! And I sheepishly walked in with him into the elevator and once the elevator doors closed, I immediately said, “Bill, I am so sorry. I apologize. I have nothing to do with them asking you for a quote. I’m embarrassed by it. Please, you’ve been so generous and kind.” And he said, “Really? You had nothing to do with it?” And I said, “I swear to God, I had nothing to do with it.” So, he said, “Okay, I’ll give it to you.” And right there in the elevator, he said, “If you only see one movie this year it should be Frankenhooker.” And that was the last time I ever saw him.

Robg.: [laughs] Wow. That’s such a great story! Brain Damage is also a fan favorite and visually it’s a beautiful movie. Do you still consider it one of your personal favorites?

Frank: Oh yeah, it was always my favorite up until Bad Biology.

Robg.: One of the coolest things about Brain Damage is that you got Zacherley to be the voice of Elmer!

Frank: The first monster magazine I ever bought was I think Famous Monsters number 7 with Zacherley on the cover. I grew up watching him on Channel nine, Zacherley At Large. I was trying to find a good voice for Elmer. I wanted someone intelligent and articulate. I was talking to an agent who handled voice over actors that were distinctive. He mentioned a couple of names and when he got to John Zacherle, I went, “Oh my God!” It was such a thrill to get him. I was just so in love with the guy. I thought it was almost a shame not to have him on camera in Brain Damage, so that’s why I had him do a cameo in Frankenhooker, so at least we have him in two films now.

Robg.: He’s a great guy and he’d always do the Chiller conventions back in Jersey.

Frank: Oh yeah. Just a prince, that’s all I can say about him.

Frank Henenlotter’s latest film Bad Biology is now available on DVD!

Source: Rob G.

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Weekend: Nov. 22, 2018, Nov. 25, 2018

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