The October Diaries: Bad Biology

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Mary Yajko, Sean & Christof

October 26th, 2014:
Bad Biology

Year: 2008
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Format: Blu-ray
From IMDB: Driven by biological excess, a man and a woman search for sexual fulfillment, unaware of each other’s existence. .

Mary’s Take:

“I was born with seven clits,” Jennifer states in a monologue — the first six words of the movie.

We see Jennifer sitting inconspicuously on a bar stool in a divey place, watching the men around her in a sly voyeuristic way. The rugged male patrons strut and brood in head to toe dark clothing, competing at pool and general machismo. Jennifer watches in her girlish pink sweater. Her femininity almost glows around her like an aura in this scene, contrasted with the masculine atmosphere of the bar.

She continues:

“Look at ‘em. Oblivious. Completely unaware that a genuine freak of nature sits among them. And that’s what I am alright. A mutant. A grotesque abomination. I’m lovely but a monstrosity. Wait a minute. Look at that bad boy swagger. Whatchu think? […] He’s just meat to feed the hungry beast. A beast so unique that I’m convinced I’m my own species.”

Not only does Jennifer have seven clits, but she also gestates and births a baby about two hours after having intercourse with a man. Her superpowers also come with an insatiable appetite for sexual encounters and goddess-level hormonal rages.

“By the way, I’m more than just a normal girl, and sometimes, most times, I wish I could find more than just a normal guy.”

Who could be a match for Jennifer? When she spies Batz, she’s sure she’s found the one. He’s got a monstrous, 14-inch, drug-addicted cock with a naughty mind of its own. Batz can barely control the behavior of his anaconda or its aggressive states of arousal. With these two crazy kids crossing paths, Henenlotter creates an absurd caricature of human sexuality, and the satisfying “YES!” moments are plenty — if psycho-pervy movies are your cup of tea.

It all comes down to the classic but-I’m-different sentiment, really. (That and boobs and boners.) Don’t we all feel like mutants in one dirty way or another? Don’t we all feel like our hormones are at the wheel? Don’t we all feel like thinly veiled freaks-without-leashes sometimes? No? Okay, fine, go watch City of Angels, you perfect higher being. For the rest of us, Henenlotter’s Bad Biology offers up a brutal parody of the ancient dance of lust. And to him, I say, thank you for this gift!

Bad Biology

Christof’s Take:

Frank Henenlotter makes Frank Henenlotter movies.

If you don’t like Frank Henenlotter movies, there’s a good chance you won’t like Bad Biology, because it’s directed by Frank Henenlotter, and Frank Henenlotter makes Frank Henenlotter movies.

His first five feature films were Basket Case, Brain Damage, Basket Case 2, Frankenhooker, and Basket Case 3: The Progeny. And then for 16 years he didn’t make any movies. Based on the little I know about the filmmaker — how he prefers to be recognized as an exploitation filmmaker rather than a horror director, how he has been told by potential financiers that they’d like him (and Bad Biology co-writer, R.A. The Rugged Man) to rewrite a project to be more like the Saw movies  — I assume part of the reason for his absence is because he’s strict about only making Frank Henenlotter movies. And Bad Biology, his sixth feature, fits right in with the others, which makes it a precious find, because while he was gone no one was making Frank Henenlotter movies.

The realities of his movies are often cartoonish and brutal — often straddling the line between the two, and occasionally using that line as a jump rope. Bad Biology not only follows this pattern, but continues to define it with some of the wildest, most grotesque, and most intelligently gratuitous cinema Henenlotter has accomplished to date — all this after not only 16 years of downtime, but also returning in a budget weight-class he hasn’t been in since he began with Basket Case.

He drops us back into his world with two wonderfully dubious characters: Jennifer (played by Charlee Danielson), a woman with seven clits, and Batz (played by Anthony Sneed), a man who literally and figuratively struggles with his penis that is monstrous both in size and will. These two offer Henenlotter a wide-open venue for his most common themes: mutation, addiction, sexual and biological shame, and how all of these interact with the notion of the Shadow Self. Such physical attributes also opens the door for plenty of hideous and delightful practical effects (helmed by Gabe Bartalos). Tangible, textured special effects are something cinema certainly lacks these days, and we’re in such short supply that I honestly don’t care how much money has been thrown at them. I know the veiny-monster penis puppet isn’t going to “fool” you, but, c’mon, a CGI dick wouldn’t either.

(Fun Fact: the “penis-crawl stop-motion” credit goes to Jeremiah Dickey!)

Also, no one is trying to “fool” you. Henenlotter flaunts formal flourishes throughout, and always utilizes the low-budget to the film’s advantage. The inherent sense of humor, which is somehow both buoyant and grim, could have you laughing one second and feeling deeply uncomfortable the next, and you never know how long a particular mood may last. There is a consistent level of dramatic inconsistency that suggests an approach and attitude to making movies that’s been present since the beginning. (One of my favorite examples is Sharon and Duane’s first interaction in Basket Case.)

It is erratic cinema. That might sound like a critique, and maybe it would have been if I believed this quality wasn’t a choice. Henenlotter is full of brave artistic choices. I’m sure there is no shortage of people who would eagerly look down upon this movie with their brows held high, but I would make the argument that anyone who thinks they rise above this film — anyone who despises the subject matter or guffaws at the production value– have actually fallen beneath its autonomy.

“This is disgusting. Vulgar and disgusting,” a woman comments to Jennifer, who has decided to steer a photo shoot in the direction of topless women wearing vulvic masks. “This is pornography. Plain and simple,” she insists as Jennifer ignores the complaints. “This is not clever. This is not intelligent. This is not artistic. This is crude, gutter-level filth.”

Henenlotter knows what you think of this movie, and he wants you to know that he knows.

A photo from Jennifer’s intimate series, “Fuck Face”

Sean’s Take:

Our living room crew was particularly excited to pull the trigger on Bad Biology. Rare is the opportunity to watch a new piece of work from Frank Henenlotter — especially one none of us had seen before. Most cineastes probably don’t respond to his name with enough warmth but, under our roof, it’s uttered in reverent tones. After all, it was Henenlotter who gave us the heartwarming nourishment of the Basket Case trilogy as well as the more-poignant-than-you’d-think Brain Damage.

One of Henenlotter’s primary auteuristic tendencies is the same trait that makes his work so ripe to watch with a group: shock. He has always delighted in the many possibilities cinema as a form can be used to poke and prod his audience. A roomful of people laugh-squirming to his antics is more majestic than most sunsets. He imbues a terrific and trashy edge to his films that comes across as very refreshing, especially when so much of modern horror has a soft-corner shine to it (even most torture-porn entries have the polished visual aesthetic of a GAP ad).

All this being said, I still tempered my excitement before watching Bad Biology. Often times it can be difficult watching contemporary films from inspirational legends who did their best work decades prior. It’s a hit-or-miss endeavor that can put a hasty end to your nostalgia buzz. Watch John Carpenter’s The Ward from 2010 and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I love Carpenter more than many of my blood relatives, but that love couldn’t distract me from the feeling that Carpenter felt out of place with the material. 

With this hesitancy in mind, it was even more satisfying to discover that even though Bad Biology is relatively new, there’s still the same jovial cheapness applied to Bad Biology that can be found at the core of Henenlotter greatest works. It felt like this film was made by the same person who gave us Frankenhooker* and that’s a victory.

Bad Biology addresses the same themes Henenlotter’s films often touch on. Throughout much of his work his characters can be found engaging in a struggle with some form of biological abnormality. This abnormality (perceived flaw) usually leads to personal insecurities. These insecurities then end up conflicting with their desires.

Think of Duane and his deformed/detached Siamese-twin brother Belial from the Basket Case saga. They are constantly throwing water on the flames of eachother’s potential romance (in life, seeing your ally in suffering find potential happiness can lead to an increase in your own feelings of loneliness and isolation). 

In Brain Damage, the main character Brian becomes addicted to the biological secretion of a little parrot-sized creature named Aylmer who administers a hallucinogenic drip through a small wound on Brian’s neck. Aylmer controls Brian through this addiction. This dependence leads Brian to some dark, bloody, places. 

The narrative at play can often be boiled down to: urge versus everything-standing-in-the-way-of-that-urge. This is a common series of emotional beats to pad out any movie, but it’s the exaggerated absurdity Henenlotter uses in his treatment of these beats that elevates his extreme renderings into the horror genre.

In Bad Biology we have a female lead who has to contend with the overactive sexual desires wrought from having seven clits. Meanwhile, the male lead copes with having to live with a steroided-out monster-cock that is prone to behaving on its own accord. These leads have urges that needs satiating, no matter the cost to the human lives that surround them. And since these are the bread-and-butter moments of a good horror movie, I’m happy to report Henenlotter butters his bread liberally.

At one point our female lead, Jennifer, delivers a stretch of voiceover where she questions why she was created in the fashion that she was (with a vast surplus of desire that can’t be managed by the demands of mortal men).  Finally, she comes to the conclusion that her physiology was the result of God wanting to fuck her — the only rationale that would explain the existence of such a powerful sexual appetite.

Sense of humor is sometimes one of the first traits you notice not translating from director’s previous films. Some of this might stem from the industry changing, some of this might stem from the director changing on a personal level. Thankfully Henenlotter’s demented style of witty crassness still comes across fully intact. He’s still very willing to go out on a limb for a joke that doesn’t necessarily deserve the effort.

The scene where a character orgasms for hours and hours on end, much to the chagrin of those near her, is played with a pretty deft comedic touch. There are also a handful of Spike Lee-esque flourishes where characters deliver fourth-wall-breaking monologues directly to the camera — more evidence that Henenlotter’s adventurous side is still in active duty. We will continue to speak his name in reverent tones in our household.

Also, check out the trailer for his next (it’s not horror, but still worthy of our support):


*Bill Murray once famously said “If you see one movie this year, make it Frankenhooker.”



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