The Afterbirth of (true) Grindhouse: Bad Biology

In an interview about Bad Biology, Frank Henenlotter said: “I just thought, ‘let’s go back and make an exploitation film as if the world still wanted them!’” Some of us do still want them.

No one knows the nostalgic tug of a seedy movie in a seedy theater more than Henenlotter, except perhaps John Waters. Like Water’s A Dirty Shame, Bad Biology is an unapologetic and joyous revelry of bad taste, irreverence, exploitation and comedy that harkens back to a B-cinema time before there were so-called auteurs claiming to do grindhouse for the multiplex. Henenlotter was a part of the grindhouse theatres of New York’s 42nd Street, both as a fan and a contributor, until the home video age and Mayor Koch put an end to those days forever. Kids nowadays get their so-called grindhouse neutered, canned and sugar-coated by the likes of Tarantino, Rodriguez and the shlubs behind the Saw & Hostel franchises and they don’t know what they’ve missed. Kids, if you think you have the stomach for it, check out Bad Biology for a fresh take on all that made grindhouse infamous. Henenlotter is back in full-force with a film that goes beyond exploitation straight into artful masterpiece.

While I would have been thoroughly satisfied with a retread of classic Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage), Bad Biology is oh so much more. The returned Henenlotter has kept his 80s aesthetics intact, shunning the prepackaged digital age by shooting in beautiful, visceral 35 mm and using practical effects rather than hollow CGI. Not that Henenlotter is a neo-Luddite, but rather he understands that the physical nature of this sort of film demands a physical, not digital, rendering. Henenlotter’s old special effects pals, Gabe Bartalos and Al Magliochetti, do not disappoint. Rather than sticking to the same sort of everyman characters that inhabited Henenlotter’s New York of days gone by, Henenlotter brings us today’s unglamorous New Yorkers. The cast consists mainly of R. A. “The Rugged Man” Thorburn’s non-actor pals, who are given free rein to be natural, yet seem to take their roles seriously enough that we easily get sucked into their world. And what about the narrative itself? Yes, it is shocking, but this isn’t the mindless gross-out we’ve come to expect from today's hackneyed hacks. Instead, the script and story are smart and thoughtful, without sacrificing the fun we came for in the first place. Much of this is achieved by Henenlotter inviting us, his audience, into the world he’s created. Our lead and narrator, a smashing Charlee Danielson, weaves in and out of the 4th wall effortlessly. The crew of a metaphor-gone-awry photo shoot argues whether or not the theme is safe, true, nice, edgy or just plain sick, cleverly burying all of the criticisms, misunderstandings, fears and delights that could be aimed at a film like Bad Biology within the context of the scene itself. From the first line: "I was born with seven clits.", it is no secret what sort of film you’ve stumbled into, but the joy comes from the fact that as each scene rolls by, the ante is upped, escalating the blasphemy and perversity until the final, glorious turn. Despite all of this, there’s a humanity in his characters that never gets corroded. There’s a strange sweetness to the fun and sick world of Henenlotter, and I’m glad to see it’s back!

I’d love to pop into my local seedy theater and see Bad Biology with a crowd of like-minded strangers, but alas all of the grindhouse theaters are gone, and no multiplex in its right mind would touch it with a 10-foot pole. On top of that, Bad Biology is unlikely to even get an MPAA rating here in the US, much less a proper domestic DVD release. So, pick up the Region 2 Pal DVD, invite over that scant handful of your most-discerning friends and watch this singular and outstanding film. Do it now!

1 comment:

nervenet said...

I have to second this. I loved the film while watching it and in retrospect think that it will stand as Henelotter's best film. And this from someone who loved both Basket Case and Brain Damage growing up and enjoyed Frankenhooker reasonably well. It's smart, it's funny, it thinks and makes you think, it's provocative - it's just great. Admittedly, I started thinking about which of my friends I could recommend it to without several caveats, and I came up with a very short list, but still - it's the best new film I've seen in a long time. Better than anything I saw in 2008.