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Home arrow Entertainment arrow Dark Gallery arrow FRANK HENENLOTTER - THE LAST INTERVIEW?
Written by By Richard King   
Sep 01, 2004 at 02:00 AM
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Firstly, I have to admit that when I interviewed Frank Henenlotter I was somewhat unprepared... Not that I had not prepared any questions... Oh I had plenty of them. Let me explain.  I got in contact with Henenlotter through a mutual friend Scooter (SHATTER DEAD) McCrae. He told me that Frank had agreed to a short interview (for a book I am writing about new horror movie directors) and I was to call him and simply arrange a time when he would be free to sit on the phone for a while. I eventually caught him in and he agreed to a phone interview the following Friday, on condition that I did not ask too many questions about his own work and that it wouldn't last too long. The reason for this is that he hates interviews. I put down the phone and crossed out half a dozen questions on my list. This, after all, was a favor and I did not want to upset the apple cart! I've got a book to write and need all the favors I can pull in.
Friday came around and I called Frank mid afternoon (UK time). His first words were "Let's get this damn thing over with" followed by "what're you going to talk about?." I explained I wanted to talk about his work with the new school of young horror directors (mainly Scooter McCrae and Howard S.Berger - 'ORIGINAL SINS') and a little about himself. "Not so much about myself please". I crossed off another couple of questions and got started. But it didn't go according to plan... I asked him one question and by the time he had finished talking he had already answered the majority of the others on the list without me saying a word. For a man who hates interviews he is sure hard to stop once up and running. Thank you Frank, you inadvertently did me proud!
The first subject I tackled him with, of course, was his association with McCrae and Berger.
"I think he (McCrae) was in the art department at the tale end of 'FRANKENHOOKER' and then he inflicted misery all throughout 'BASKET CASE 2'. You'd see him running around with a little smoke machine just adding to the confusion. Generally just, you know, acting insane. But that's typical of the kind of people you get working on films in New York... especially on low budget pictures.
"Howard was also on BASKET CASE 2.. a lot of the job for the crew was just to keep me laughing. Which they did..."
From his avid interview technique and his obvious sense of humor towards his work, this would appear to be a plausible summing up of making a Henenlotter movie. However, a tale from Howard S. Berger would seem to dispute this claim.
"They were all set up to shoot the doggy-style sex scene between Belial and his freak girlfriend, Eve. As a joke one of the key FX guys thought it would make a funny blooper if Belial had an erection. So without Frank knowing, they constructed an unfeasably huge latex boner complete with scrotum and working jism tube. So, as they were filming the freak sex, they raised the boner high and made it ejaculate. I almost passed out, but Frank didn't find it the slightest bit amusing. I've rarely seen a man get that angry - he really wanted to go O.J. on the FX guy. When we heard how flipped out Frank was getting - because it took a few seconds for the anger to bubble and build - we all shoved this guy out as fast as we could through the back way so that Frank couldn't catch him - you know, to give the poor slob a head start, just to be fair. But watching that guy run for his life was definitely worth pissing Frank off. THAT was funny. But I learned a valuable lesson right then and there - NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, EVER, FUCK WITH FRANK'S FREAKS!"
Of course we have all heard nightmare stories of projects that were great fun to make but ended up really bad movies. This reaction is certainly proof of that. Henenlotter wanted to restrict the fooling around to what was in the script. The set is a work place not a playground. The essential difference between a serious-film maker and a 'serious' filmmaker. Fair shout when it's your schedule on the line. It's somewhat unsurprising that his attitude towards the end of the shoot and his parting with Berger and McCrae is summed up in the words, "I hoped I would never see them again".
But it was not to be. As he enthusiastically adds;
"Just when I thought I would never see them again they both came back. Like AAAGH! It's like a disease you know. Just a little infection and then you think it's all cleared up then a couple of years later another outbreak and it's 'Oh God! It's back and it's worse than ever!... And they've got films with them... Now it's even worse!"
Confirmation enough of his real affection for both Berger and McCrae even if it is in a somewhat backhanded fashion. So what does Henenlotter actually think of the films?
"I released them here... with Scooter's film and Howard's film I decided to start a new label called 'Sexy Shockers From the Video Underground'... I'm also releasing three more of these films on the label... one of them is Jeffrey Arsenault's 'NIGHT OWL' and we're also putting out Charles Pinion's 'RED SPIRIT LAKE'. And there's another one that's really got us, we're just not sure... I've just got hours and hours of this awful thing that was shot here... it's called (laughs really loud) 'HUNKY THOMAS MEETS CRACKHEAD CROWLEY'... it's so wrong and it's so disgusting and it's so perverse, I mean sexually."
When I press Frank to explain what he means, he does so by illustration. "They've got this guy fucking a sandwich and it's like hardcore but it's a sandwich. Like there's all these scenes where, you know, they look like porno but they're all wrong. So I'm just gonna leave them in and just put '21 and over' and to hell with it, you know. God, it's vile"
I somehow managed to steer the conversation back towards normality by bringing up his much anticipated film collaborations with Scooter McCrae and how it all came about.
"I don't know... When the horror film market fell apart for the low budget and independent stuff I decided - well it's time to call it quits - and only recently I had some people talking to me saying, you know - why don't you try doing something a little different - and I had these couple of really odd ideas so I'm thinking "OK I've got an odd idea and Scooter's an odd person to collaborate with" but I don't know where they stand yet. I have a company that wants to do one of them... What does that mean? This is the only business where 'Yes we wanna make it' means 'I don't know'. It's the only business where I get nauseous when people tell me 'Yes we're definitely gonna do it,' 'cause then I walk out thinking 'Oh, I'm in trouble!' So that's where that stands. And the other one (collaboration with McCrae) is just too weird. I don't want to mention that. Too, too weird. It sounds like such a great concept that I just don't even believe it myself OK?"
From the man who has given the cinematic world a handful of the most perverse and oddball horror flicks, ever, Henenlotter certainly comes across as a man who likes to keep his ideas and ideals close to his chest. However, when tackled about his views of the state of the burgeoning shot on video horror, Frank is somewhat less cagey.
"There's no more real low budget (horror) features made... well yes there is, there's always going to be one or two but they're not really horror... you know what I mean... It's so hard to compete with the majors right now. Even they're doing more 'Freddies', more Wes Craven films, you know, brand name films, and I get so bored with that stuff."
"I was hoping the video market would just boom out, but it just fell apart. I was hoping that kids with their video cameras would be doing something really amazing and too much of it was rehashing the same old films. I mean, they're gonna do a slasher movie on video - who cares we didn't like them on film! Or do the same old zombie films... excuse me folks!"
"At least I liked what Scooter and Howard did. They were at least perverse enough to be different, and they kept my attention. They were well shot. You know some of the stuff I've seen on video -- GRAAAH!... And then I liked NIGHT OWL just because it's so god-damn morbid. And I liked RED SPIRIT LAKE cause it's almost like a disgusting art film... I love it, it's just kind of poetic and elegant and then they cut off a dick. You know... like 'HELLO!'
"There's a couple of other things I've seen on the market, like there's one called 'SPLATTER FARM' that I liked. Shot on video and it's just another perversity that went over the edge a little too much and got a little too uncomfortable, a little too ugly... got you going 'Oh my god what's next?'. Other than that I keep finding my cheap thrills back in the old films I find from the 60s and 70s, and now we've (Something Weird) got two other huge collections that we've just found. So I can't wait to assemble them."
So why is Frank Henenlotter such an inspiration to the New Wave horror filmmakers? Why is he willing to take certain of them under his apparently unwilling wing? Maybe it's his lowbudget sensibility. Maybe cause he recognises what can actually be done and done well with very little. Maybe it's cause he sees something of himself in what they are striving towards. His own movies BASKET CASE 1,2 & 3, BRAIN DAMAGE and FRANKENHOOKER would certainly bare this out. But from a man who's compliments could easily be misconstrued as insults it is difficult to tell. So as an attempt to maybe set the record straight(er) I'll give his sometime collaborator and all round weird guy buddy, Scooter McCrae, the last word.
"Frank Henenlotter said - the best thing to me concerning the 'uniqueness' of SHATTER DEAD was observing it's nonexistent make-up and effects budget - he commented about - what a smart choice it was to make the zombies intelligent and not so much different than the 'normal' people since I couldn't have afforded to do a film like this in any other way. Basically he complemented me for being a cheap sonovabitch.
"And, just so I don't come across as a completely glib idiot I will state, for the record, that if I had ten times the budget I did when I made SHATTER DEAD there would still be no difference in the appearance between the living and the dead. But I do think the birth of the baby would have looked better..."
Nuff said?!!!

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