There are directors who have defined what we – as horror fans, truly love about horror films. John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Tom Holland, Roger Corman, William Castle, William Malone, Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, George A. Romero, Clive Barker, David Cronenberg, Todd Browning, Mario Bava, Shinya Tsukamoto, Stuart Gordon, Terence Fisher, and Takashi Shimizu, to name just a small few, are some of the biggest names for us fans. These are some of the names that we all know, love, and adore. On a smaller scale is the name Frank Henenlotter whose claim to fame will forever be associated with his Basket Case trilogy. But he directed so many other great films. I’ve loved his films ever since his film Brain Damage (1988) forever warped my fragile little mind.
I was twelve years old when I first saw Brain Damage. This parable about drug addiction and a little alien creature was one of the coolest films I had ever seen whether I knew what the film was really about or not. I made this film a constant fixture in my re-watching cue year-to-year. The creature Aylmer was disturbing in its creation yet influential in its simplicity and execution. This film helped to define my love of weird and unusual horror films.
The name Henenlotter still meant nothing to me at this time. I still knew nothing of the name when I next saw Basket Case 2 (1990). I saw this film on a whim based on the VHS cover artwork. I had never seen the original film at the time but that cover art was a fantastic way of introducing me to the franchise. I loved the film because it had monsters, was funny, and had lots of gore. The fact that the entire film was bat-shit crazy also helped. It didn’t even matter that I had never seen the original film. When Basket Case 3 (1991) came out I was the first one to rent it from the neighborhood video store (I had it on reserve because the store owners knew me by name). I loved monster movies and this film was a god-send for me.
At this point I still hadn’t seen the original Basket Case (1982) and skipped over Frankenhooker (1990), mostly because of fear that my parents would never rent me a film with that title despite the fact that I loved the cover art for the VHS. Unfortunately, for me, the original Basket Case at my video store had become damaged and never been replaced so I wasn’t able to see it until much later.
1990 was a big year for me as Clive Barker released probably one of my favorite films of all time – Nightbreed (1990), which redefined my love of monsters and set me on a path where I would always be more sympathetic to the monsters. Basket Case 2 & 3 would create a trilogy of films that I would watch constantly and despite having not seen the original film I didn’t think I was really missing much.
By 1995, I finally knew the name Frank Henenlotter. I had seen these three films so many times I knew them by heart. I was graduating from high school and decided that I wanted to be a writer and film maker and my first lesson was to learn the names of all my favorite writers and directors of which Henenlotter was one of the very first. Others in this elite club included Alfred Hitchcock, James Whale, Richard Donner, Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma, Robert Wise, F.W. Murnau, Tod Browning, Carl Dreyer, and most of the horror directors that I described earlier.
It was at this time that DVD had taken over the world and even though I still had a ton of films on VHS it became easier to find some of those films that I had lost track of. I devoured horror films from all decades and countries when I went to college. If it was a horror film that had any impact on the genre I searched it out. No horror film was too big or too small. I loved the obscure and the strange. The stranger, the better. I even made the horror genre one of my focus’ at college writing papers on the films of George Melies and George A. Romero and even one on The X-Files (all of which I made “A”s on by the way). Maybe one day I’ll publish those so people can read what I was thinking back then.
Due to the unavailability of Henenlotter’s films on DVD it was a long time before I finally got around to finally seeing both the original Basket Case and Frankenhooker, two films that had eluded me for so many years. At this point I was a DVD horror film collector and adding these to my collection was a great moment for me. I was finally able to see the film Frankenhooker which I was so afraid to see as a child but more importantly I was finally able to see the entire Basket Case trilogy in one night! I was in Henenlotter heaven!
In 2008, Henelotter would finally break his 17 year silence and release his latest masterpiece Bad Biology. It didn’t matter whether the film was any good or not, it was the first Henenlotter film in which I knew was a Henenlotter film. I couldn’t even, honestly, tell you whether the film is any good or not because like all of his films, I loved it because it was something new and fresh and something no one else could have conceived. A Henenlotter film is un-mistakenly a Henenlotter film. He is a one of a kind genius.
Now, there have been many directors that have defined what the horror genre is and with each decade it gets re-defined and twisted by the latest cinematic genius. Eli Roth, M. Night Shyamalan, Rob Zombie, Takashi Miike, James Wan, Lucky McKee, Alexandre Aja, Tommy Wirkola, Jason Eisener, Jake West, Fede Alvarez, Gareth Evans, Adam Wingard, and Jim Mickle, are but a few of the rising stars trying to make their mark in the horror genre today. With each new film, Henenlotter turns the genre on its head and out shines them all. His films may not be as refined as Shyamalan or a throwback to a bygone decade like Roth or bat-shit gore-tastic like Wirkola but they remain undeniably, undefinably, and unmistakably horror films that rip the fabric of the genre to shreds and leaves you wondering just what the f*&k you just saw.
I will continue to watch and love his films and I’m standing in line waiting for the next one to see release (even if it takes another 17 years). And so should you.