cast: Charlie Danielson, Anthony Sneed, Jessie Jayne Clancy, and James Glickenhaus
director: Frank Henenlotter
84 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 16:9
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Gary McMahon
I have been fond of maverick New York filmmaker Frank Henenlotter’s work ever since I saw the deliriously deranged little gem Basket Case on grainy VHS back in the 1980s. The director’s output ranges from the slightly disappointing Frankenhooker to the outright brilliant Brain Damage, but is never less than fascinating. There’s a charm to his films that shines through the often grimy settings and disturbing subject matter to create a mood that is like nothing else in film. Despite lashings of sex and gruesome imagery, Henenlotter’s films are good-natured and entertaining in a way you never quite expect.
I approached Bad Biology with a certain amount of trepidation; Henenlotter hasn’t produced a feature since 1992’s patchy but occasionally inspired Basket Case 3: The Progeny, and I wondered if he might have lost that spark, that sense of barely contained anarchy and the wonderfully trashy sensibility which set his previous films apart from the pack in the world of independent horror films. I need not have worried.
Bad Biology is a bravura performance, approaching the low-budget brilliance of Brain Damage in many aspects, not least being the focus on the extreme effects of drugs on the human genetic makeup and the exaggeration of these effects to the point of grotesque metaphor.
Jennifer (Charlie Danielson), a young fashion photographer, was born with seven clits (yep, you read that correctly) and has trouble being satisfied by men. She picks up strangers in sleazy bars, goes back with them to grubby hotel rooms, and basically fucks them to death. At the exact moment of their orgasm, she takes a photo, immortalising their final throes in her art. Within half an hour of sex, as a result of her mutated biology, Jennifer gives birth to a deformed baby. She leaves these unwanted offspring in hotel bathrooms, in the back of abandoned cars, and in other similar urban hidey-holes.
Meanwhile, Batz (Anthony Sneed) is suffering from his own case of the bad biology of the title. His problem is that his penis has grown to gigantic dimensions and taken on a life of its own. As a boy he was taunted in the school showers for being underdeveloped, so he began the desperate measure of injecting illegal steroids directly into his manhood. This plan worked… in fact, it worked too well. Now he must satisfy the demands of his monstrous member by means of a mechanical fuck machine in the basement of his large home, and occasionally by picking up willing women and leaving them insensate with orgasms that simply don’t stop.
Obviously these two soul mates are destined to meet, and when they do it doesn’t exactly turn out as you might expect.
Henenlotter directs with an eye for the surreal – some scenes are so twisted that you doubt what you have seen, and then wonder how they got away with it. The amazing Gabe Bartalos provides the superb visual effects, giving from to Henenlotter and screenwriter R.A. Thorburn’s insane imagery. The film does overstep the mark on occasion – the scene in which Batz’s unattached penis journeys through the neighbourhood bedrooms raping woman is rather distasteful due to the fact that the women begin to enjoy being violated. But, hey, this is transgressive stuff, so you almost expect to be offended.
The ending of the film left me reeling. The final scene successfully walks a tightrope between absurdity and horror like nothing else I’ve seen in a very long time, and the contribution of Bartlalos is immense to help leave the viewer with an image that he or she will never forget. It’s an image that’s still stuck in my mind, and I really don’t want it there.
Henenlotter is a true original, a unique voice in a time when moviemaking has become hideously safe and formulaic. Bad Biology certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste – it is crude, juvenile and hugely offensive, and if you’re looking for a glossy viewing experience don’t even go there – but to the open-minded lover of left-field cinema entertainment, the film provides more ingenuity and creativity than mainstream Hollywood could even (wet) dream of.