Cult favorite filmmaker Frank Henenlotter hasn't made a feature film since 1992's Basket Cast 3: The Progeny so, in certain circles at least, there was much rejoicing when news broke two years back that he was working on a new horror film. The man behind Frankenhooker, the Basket Case movies and Brain Damage may not have ever been a household name but he made some pretty bad ass movies in his prime and the excitement surrounding his return to the genre was completely understandable. Which brings us to Bad Biology. Co-written by Henenlotter and hip-hop artist (and sometimes Wu-Tang Clan collaborator) R. A. Thorburn, better known as the Rugged Man, this is a that's going to take a lot of people by surprise,
The film follows a young woman named Jennifer (Charlee Danielson) who was born with seven clitorises. Jennifer, who works as a photographer, suffers from pretty severe nymphomania and because of her physical condition needs near constant sexual stimulation as she quite simply just can't seem to ever be satisfied. Her hyper sexualized lifestyle results in all manner of one night stands and dirty undercover rendezvous' and, if that weren't enough, periodic pregnancies. Her pregnancies are as abnormal as her organs, however, and she's able to give birth literally just a few hours after getting impregnated. Not wanting to deal with the trials and tribulations of motherhood, she's prone to shooting out 'babies' wherever necessary and simply leaving them there to die.
In the same city lives a young man named Batz (Anthony Sneed) who, when he was born, has his penis cut off while the doctor who brought him into this world was trying to cut the umbilical cord. As he grew up, Batz ingested massive amounts of growth hormones in hopes that his manhood would grow back, and it did, to the point where as an adult it's now two feet long and, well, freakish not only in size but in stature and appearance. He's also an addict who, unfortunately, is given drugs meant for animals instead of his normal dose. Side effects develop and as Batz literally injects his member with steroids, he finds himself with an ever increasing need for sexual gratification. When, though some interesting circumstances, Jennifer learns about Batz and his predicament, she realizes she has to have him.
Bad Biology was made on a very low budget, even by the modest standards of Henenlotter's earlier pictures. As such, the acting is, at times, a bit on the flat side, even bordering on amateurish in spots. The cast aren't always all that believable and while many of these miscreants certainly look the part to play in the picture, their delivery is sometimes off. That said, those familiar with his other films won't likely have an issue with that - it's not like his earlier efforts were going to take home any best actor nods. The low budget is obvious in other ways too, however. Though the film was shot on 35mm at Henenlotter's request, it sometimes feels a bit cheap and a bit rushed.
Bad Biology has its moments, though. Quite a few of them in fact. First up is the effects work that comes courtesy of one of Henenlotter's long time collaborators, Gabe Bartalos, the man responsible for the makeup work that made Frankenhooker, Brain Damage and the two Basket Case sequels as squishy and gooey as they were. Bartalos is in fine form here and given plenty to do, from creating prosthetic two foot long dongs to creating Jennifer's new born accidents, one of which slathers around in a bathtub in a pool of its own fluids after being violently shot out of her nether regions. Yep, you read that right. These effects, which are all done the old fashioned way and without the need for disruptive CGI, work incredibly well in the context of the seedy, sordid world that Henenlotter and Thorburn thrust us into, contrasting really well with the romantic aspects of the plot (and despite the nastiness of the whole affair, they're definitely there...kinda...sorta).
The director's penchant for twisted comedy is here in full force as well, perfectly exemplified by a scene in which Batz's wangdoodle runs rampant through an apartment building seemingly inhabited only by nubile young ladies in all in a state of perpetual undress. At times it might feel like he's recycling some of his older ideas (parts of the film feel very similar to Basket Cast, right down to the blue goop that both Elmer from that earlier film and Batz from this picture are involved with) but there's enough here that works that those who appreciate his work should find much to enjoy. It's not the best starting place for those new to his filmography and he's definitely made better pictures, but the rampant spirit of lunacy and comedic perversion that earned him his following has not dulled. The film isn't scary, it isn't sexy, nor is it really even very tense, but it is funny, it is shocking, and it is ridiculously disgusting. Take that as you will. It's not for all tastes, that's for damn sure, but when has Henenlotter ever cared about mass appeal? He hasn't matured as a filmmaker at all, and God bless him for it.
Bad Biology gets a pretty solid 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD. There are shots here and there that look a little bit on the dark side but aside from that there isn't much to complain about. Detail does vary from time to time but is generally pretty consistent and there are no obvious mpeg compression problems or edge enhancement issues to report on. The cinematography is sometimes on the dark and seedy side and this transfer reflects that but there aren't any problems here, it all looks pretty good.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is also pretty good. There are some moments where the directional effects play a key role in the film's effectiveness even if this isn't really ultra-aggressive demo material. Levels are properly balanced, dialogue is easy to understand and the track is clean, consistent, and free of any hiss or distortion. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is also included.
Extras start off with a commentary track featuring director/co-writer Frank Henenlotter and producer and co-writer R. A. Thorburn (who also plays a supporting role in the film and helped put together the soundtrack), better known to hip hop fans as Rugged Man. The pair talk about how they came together to work on this project, about the effects work, and of course about some of the pictures more controversial elements. It's a good track with some interesting information and the pair appears to be having a good time dissecting their work. If you want to know more about how this odd pairing for this odd project came to be, this is the way to get it.
There's also a featurette included here called Fuckface: The Man Behind The Lens that takes a look at the photographer who shot the photos that Jennifer uses in the film. Here we get some behind the scenes footage of Henenlotter and his cast and crew at work as well as some insight into his creative process and that of the photographer contracted to work on the film. Rounding out the extras are two Rugged Man videos (one of which was directed by Henenlotter), a trailer for the feature, and trailers for a few other Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD releases. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included. In terms of extras (all of which are exclusive to this particular release of the film), this disc offers a big step up from the UK PAL release that came out last year and which was completely barebones.
As sleazy as anything made in recent times, Bad Biology isn't as humorous as Henenlotter's previous work but it's certainly more unsettling. Completely unashamed and unafraid to go for the gross out, it's a gooey, trashy film but fans of his output would expect nothing less. Media Blasters' DVD looks and sounds pretty good and contains a solid smattering of supplemental goodies making this the one to get over the European imports. Recommended, but you have been warned...
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.