'WHAT KIND OF LOVE IS THIS?'
They’re both two of the more anticipated horror films of the last year, but DEADGIRL and BAD BIOLOGY are from very different places. While the dark hype surrounding DEADGIRL was priming horror hounds for the film’s intense, “Cronenberg-like” message, BAD BIOLOGY marked the directorial return of Frank Henenlotter, who’s films BASKET CASE, FRANKENHOOKER, and BRAIN DAMAGE are widely-respected masterpieces of trashy, smutty, New York City horror.
After watching DEADGIRL, I thought I liked it quite a bit. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but I sort of convinced myself I had seen “one of the better horror films of 2009”, at least. It wasn’t until days later when I saw BAD BIOLOGY that I realized how wrong I was.
DEADGIRL tells the tale of two young, directionless men who find a near-dead girl in bondage in an abandoned mental institution. Knowing about this much beforehand, I readied myself for what I imagined would be a nearly unwatchable horror show that would hammer home the terrifying detachment of modern sexuality, particularly in males. Yes, it’s a theme Cronenberg has explored (mostly successfully), and one that if updated properly could make a shocking and even important modern horror film. DEADGIRL leaves us with something else however. The film’s message comes through clearly, but filmmakers Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel took too few risks to really convince us of it (I do wonder if Trent Haaga's script bears exact resemblance to the final product) – there's a consciousness of good taste here, and I mean that in the worst possible way. It’s too clean and slick to evoke the true grittiness of the level of human depravity at which people keep others for unwilling sex slaves. The relationship between the two lead boys is thin, and with some adjustment that could have been the glue that held DEADGIRL together. The protagonists would have stood a chance against being boring if they were simply more real, which would have made them far more disturbing and offensive. I’m reminded of a few other (much better) films, Vincent Pereira’s 1997 masterpiece “A Better Place”, Otto Preminger’s “Compulsion” and R.L. Frost’s 1965 definitive Roughie “The Defilers”. “Compulsion” is based on the true story of Leopold and Loeb (two teenage boys who tried to literally get away with murder because they felt the were superior to other humans) and the portrayal of the “in the grey” male relationship that occurs so often in real life is one of "Compulsion"'s most successful devices. Pereira’s “A Better Place” utilizes this aspect and magnifies it with brutal high school realism while “The Defilers” is an all-out smut fest, where everything goes wrong and the dialogue sizzles with the cheapness of a 60’s porno novel. DEADGIRL lies in the murky netherworld between these approaches, stretched thin in its efforts to not offend and offend at the same time. Views of sex as well as the act itself are at a unique moment in time. People train themselves to want what they’re told, others hide what they know they want for their entire lives and although no one is actually satisfied, everyone is vehemently sure that they’re right. Tearing down these kinds of false conventions is perfect for making viewers squirm, and it burns that the opportunity was wasted here. A film with this insane and nasty of a concept shouldn’t be pulling punches, it should be going over the top completely at all times.
DEADGIRL isn't terrible, don’t get me wrong. But we’re dealing with a film that basically lies to us about how much guts it has – and with a brazen mission to provoke intelligent thought in its pornography-obsessed, mostly-male audience, you’re gonna need a lot more guts.
It was in the midst of watching BAD BIOLOGY that I realized DEADGIRL's flatness. I’m not exaggerating when I say BAD BIOLOGY is a masterpiece. A new film so glorious in its ignorance of the rotten state of cinema today that it will startle fans into realizing how good, and how original, an independent horror movie can still be. Everything about BAD BIOLOGY defies the sad, contemporary model for horror that’s infected both Hollywood drek and the so-called “indies” nowadays. Now more than ever we are exposed to horror films that attempt purposefully to offend us, the filmmakers of which have long forgotten that art can only be truly offensive when it is backed up by a genuine idea. In this respect BAD BIOLOGY, like Henenlotter’s other films, excels – every scene, every line, and every concept is born out of ACTUALLY HAVING bad taste. These guys aren’t faking it, they’re not TRYING to think of “offensive” ideas, they’re trying (and succeeding) to simply come up with GOOD ideas. It just so happens that BAD BIOLOGY’s filmmakers’ best ideas are bat-shit, jaw-droppingly, laugh-out-loud SICK! Henenlotter teamed up with rapper R.A. The Rugged Man (who I hope will have a very long career making films) to deliver this work of true sickness and depravity in a time when horror films desperate need it.
The intensity of Henenlotter’s vision is completely unique, and shockingly he’s somehow managed to make another perfect installment to his oeuvre, even though his last film was “Basket Case 3”, a long 16 years ago. The trademarks of his best work are all over BAD BIOLOGY: physical deformity, huge sexual problems, incredible over-the-top perverse dialogue and of course – unrequited love. Underneath all the flesh and blood Henenlotter always has some sort of heartache and bittersweet, missed romantic opportunity.
Make no mistake about it; BAD BIOLOGY is a passionate work of art. Aided in no small part by The Rugged Man’s understanding of the genre, an element that pairs so well with Henenlotter’s world that the viewer is lovingly barraged with a constant stream of wonderfully whacked-out concepts and scenarios. The opening scene and shot had me instantly glued to the screen – medium shot of an elegant blonde girl in a crowded dive bar … we’re looking right at her, she’s beautiful; in a pretty dress. Her voice over kicks in –
“I was born with seven clits. Or at least seven that the doctors know about …”
As she sizes up the males in the bar she fills us in on her story … Born with excessive and highly stimulating female genitalia, Jennifer desperately hunts for sex nightly; and as she tells her tale we begin to sense how deranged she’s become from her situation. She spies a suitable piece of meat in a leather jacket and catches his eye. He smiles at her, knowing he’s going to get laid, and in perfect faux-shyness she quickly breaks their eye contact and stares at the ground, smiling coyly. Voice over again –
In less than half an hour he’s dead, of course. The rest I won’t give away!
Jennifer is an insane, sociopathic sex fiend, destined to never find “the one” … enter Batz, a nervous loner with a penile affliction that would without a doubt peak Jennifer’s interest. Slowly, as both have empty, loveless one-night-stands, their paths inch toward each other. Both characters are so totally damaged that it becomes quite romantic to imagine the two actually finding each other. Jennifer’s obsessive attitude over her individual connection with God and the future of mankind lead to some of the film’s tastiest bits, and Batz’s conversations/fights with his mad member are classic Henenlotter. Jennifer is played by Charlee Danielson, in her first starring role. Danielson has enormous potential, reminding me somewhat of Mira Sorvino in “Mighty Aphrodite” and even Sissy Spacek in “Badlands” (with all those great voice-overs she does). Sneed, whom producer The Rugged Man apparently found on myspace, is perfect as an antisocial 20-something New Yorker, hardly looking anyone in the eye, pushing out his words in thick and nervous New York-ese. Disregard any reviews that you see that claim BAD BIOLOGY’s acting is bad, although I guess I’m not surprised – I mean, “Surrogates” grossed over 7 million dollars this weekend, so most people are clearly IDIOTS when it comes to what good acting is. BAD BIOLOGY has PLENTY of acting chops actually, and Charlee Danielson and Anthony Sneed both bring their roles to life with endearing and hilarious awkwardness (Sneed shouting “I was the only fifteen year old in the world who couldn’t JERK OFF!” is a highlight).
As a filmgoer, I needed Henenlotter back in my life. I needed to be reminded that as a self-respecting horror fanatic I didn’t have to settle for DEADGIRL. I didn’t have to settle for anything less than the realest of real, and the nittiest of gritty. The possibilities really are endless, and not everything has been done before, not even close. I'm reminded of something Mark Mothersbaugh once said about the illusion of freedom in America - we're told that we have the Freedom of Choice, but the choice is between Coke and Pepsi. He was right, and now this structure has existed for so long that most of us believe that it's actually "a choice" - of course, it's not. So don't believe the lies. Horror should exist without limits, without boundries and without good taste - and BAD BIOLOGY has NONE of these!