Now you are involved with re-releasing these films through the company “Something Weird.” How much are you involved? Are you writing about these films too, or just helping to curate them?
You could say I’m a silent partner in the company. Though it’s not so silent anymore. I write many of the reviews for them. If you look at the list of writers, there are probably two of them that are real. The rest are me. (Laughs) I enjoy it, and I don’t always want to be me writing about them.
I was there when the company raided the remains of Movielab. It was nothing bad, cause no one was in control. The custodians were paid off if someone wanted a film, and what was left would get dumped anyway, so we thought – what the hell. When we first walked in there, we saw rows after rows. You think of films as whole prints, but they’re not – they are in cans. Five cans for a picture. And it was a mess. We asked a staff member what it all was. He said that we wouldn’t care about all – but those we all the sex and exploitation films from the 1960s! Tons of them. And we went for it all. We paid the staff more than they were expecting, and they walked away. For three days we took stuff out of there. We rented a truck, and wanted to get it out of there real fast. We didn’t realize there was more stuff up stairs, and we acquired that seven years later.
To go back to “Basket Case” for a bit, I notice that you use backstory in that film. The same thing happens in your new film [“Bad Biology”]. Does that happen naturally when writing your scripts?
I guess so. I think you have to know where these characters came from.
I know that in “Basket Case,” all of a sudden the film shifts to way earlier in the story. I remember thinking that it was a long backstory that works well.
“Bad Biology” was interesting because I had backstories for two characters. But I didn’t want to repeat backstory. So I had my character Jennifer [played by a very brave Charlee Danielson] tell her backstory in voiceover, which was sometimes unrelated to the picture. And then I had the other main character, in a drug-induced hallucination, confess his. You had to know where these characters came from. In the case of “Bad Biology,” if we showed it, like in “Basket Case,” it wouldn’t have been interesting. It was more interesting to hear their psychological explanation of who they are.
“Basket Case’s” backstory had good visuals. In that one, it made sense to go back and show it. We could see the little kid with his twin brother dangling from his side.
With your backstories, you sort of take a screenwriting rule and smash it. The rules would say to never use so much backstory in the film.
F**k screenwriting rules. The only rule about screenwriting is to make the audience happy.
Did your co-screenwriter R.A. Thorburn originate the idea of “Bad Biology”?
He wanted to make a film, and came to me asking what should we could do. And I said we should do something extreme, and I had a couple of visual ideas. I told him to let me think about it. And I had [Jennifer’s] opening line already: I originally had it as “I was born with six clits.” [The odd biological disposition of Henenlotter’s main character leads her to serial f*****g and repeated, rapid child-births as she searches for the divine lay.] [R.A.] said if we say “six,” it will sound satanic, and we don’t want that [for our holy focus.] He said, “Why don’t we say ‘seven’ so it could be biblical?”
So that’s how we work. We had a list of shots that were like bullet points. I knew we wanted to do this, this, and this. And then I sat down and said, this is all what I want to achieve, now how to we get there. By the way, from day one we knew how it would end. [When we started] we knew the opening line, we knew the last shot, and other stuff in the beginning. So as we were writing it, it was like handball – it’s better to play handball with someone else. When you write, you write pages, you rewrite pages, you rewrite the rewrites, and while you are doing that, you are on the phone late at night [discussing it]. We’re doing the same thing with a new [script] now.
I can’t say that one idea is mine and one idea is [Thorburn’s], because I wouldn’t have had any of these ideas if we hadn’t already worked together on other [unproduced scripts].
I remember seeing R.A. “Rugged Man” Thorburn with you in the Basket Case DVD interview, and I remember thinking, “Who the hell is this guy?”
[Laughs] We did that deliberately. He even said to me, “The viewers are going to be pissed off at this, Frank.”
I thought that maybe he was your stepson.
I know. When I saw the pictures from it, I thought that we looked like a diseased version of Laurel and Hardy. I originally wanted Kevin Van Hentenryck [leading man of “Basket Case”], but he couldn’t come down that weekend.
What is he up to now?
He’s a sculptor in Woodstock [NY]. He couldn’t come down, and I had to get this thing done quickly. So I asked R.A. to do it, and he said, “What do I have to do with the film?” And I said, “Nothing. I want you to be really obnoxious when we go to the locations.” Then, he got the joke of it.
How do you click with someone like R.A., who seems so much different than you?
Well, he called me up one night out of the blue when he was signed with Jive Records. He was a 19-year-old rapper with a new contract, and asked if I would do a rap video. Now I didn’t know the first f*****g thing about hip-hop, but I just said, “Sure.” We did a video, and Jive didn’t know what to make of it. But we had a good time. Most of the videos of his that you find on YouTube are ones that I’ve done, despite my name not being on them.
R.A loved film [when we first met]. He would come over and ask about the stuff on my shelves. At first all he wanted was stuff with tits and gore. And then eventually he began looking around and asking, “Fellini – who’s this guy?” and “Why do you have silent movies?” So I gave him some Buster Keaton, and [R.A.] came back the next day asking for everything by him.
We’re you always set on using amateurs for “Bad Biology”?
I always [use amateurs]. They are easier to work with – they’re not SAG. When you say amateur, it’s not a denigration. It’s just their first time acting. Charlee [Danielson] and Anthony [Sneed] are great in [“Bad Biology”]. One of the reasons they are so great is that they never learned they are allowed to say no.
Is there anything special about Charlee that made you want to cast her as the seven-clit-ed woman?
She was just fabulous. I knew her because she was going out with R.A. He said to me that she read the pages we were working on, and that she loved it and would love to do it. I was thrilled. He originally thought the girl should be more of a scream-queen type. But I disagreed – Charlee is the girl next door. And then it clicked with R.A. When you see her in the film, you don’t expect her to do any nudity let alone be as crazy as [her character, Jennifer] is. She has a vulnerability and a natural beauty – not at all what you expected in this film.
To look to the future, you said you want to keep your filmmaking renegade.
Look, let somebody else do that other stuff. Anybody can do that. I just want to keep it outlaw and unrated. Otherwise, leave me alone.