Now here’s a term that his been thrown at us by every straight to video film maker or video distributor. “This film is a modern cult classic”. Well, not really, a cult film isn’t created, it just happens. This is also like making a “modern“ grindhouse film. First off, there are no more grind houses. Secondly, unless you’re the proud owner of a time machine, your not making a grindhouse film either. 

Cult films become cult films for various reasons. Reason one: Some are completely outrageous. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead are two examples of this. Reason Two: Banned films or highly exploitive ones like Freaks, Reefer Madness, or Cocaine Fiends. Reason Three: Films that took things to far at that point in time like Blood Feast, Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and others. These films have huge fan bases and many would run on the Midnight Movie Circuit. 

So is there any film maker who could actually make a grindhouse film during the death of the Grindhouse Era? How about a guy who spent his formative years in the grindhouses of 42nd Street? And I don’t mean me, I mean a guy who lived and breathed every kind of exploitation film shown on the fabled block. That guy is Frank Hennenlotter. 

The 80’s were the decline of 42nd Street and NYC in general. Upkeep of property was never high on the list of theater owners. You had broken seats, holes in the roofs, dingy rest rooms that were a mugger’s paradise and the human flotsam that never seemed to leave. Add in a plethora of dangerous drugs and a new sexually transmitted disease that would kill you, New York wasn’t Fun City anymore. The theaters still ran until dawn, grinding out grotesque import horror and cheaply made domestic slasher films.

Frank shot Basket Case in the belly of the beast. Using part of his life’s savings, he wrote and directed this tender story of Siamese twins separated at birth. Well, not really. Duane Bradley has his brother ,Belial , growing out of his side. His parents get a team of doctors to separate them. Belial winds up in the trash. Duane retrieves him and they set out to get revenge. The film is dedicated to HG Lewis. The gore is extreme and over the top, but it worked.

The film was released by Analysis Film Corporation, who also released Maniac in 1980. Like Maniac, Basket Case was unrated. A year after it’s release, it went to home video on Media Entertainment. But the film found a permanent home in a grindhouse , The Waverly Theater. Located in the West Village, the theater ran two midnight shows on Friday and Saturday. One was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the other was Basket Case. At the 100th showing, free Big Macs were given to patrons. Basket Case ran there for years.

Frank’s next film was Brain Damage 1988. The tender story of a brain eating ancient parasite, Almyer, who gives his carrier ‘the juice” a drug that gives Almyer control over his host, Brian, and uses his host to lead him to fresh brains. As far as I know, this went right to home video and was cut. A key scene was that Brian is in some club all messed up and Almyer is in his pants. This girl comes on to him and starts rubbing his crotch asking “ do you have a monster in there?”
Well she pulls down his zipper and Almyer shoots out going into her mouth and out the back of her head. I had my video store and had the version with this scene. I kept bring guys into my booth as I had the store in an indoor flea market. “ You won’t believe this” I told them, then I showed them the scene. Lots of WTF looks and dropped jaws. Horror host, John Zacherley was the voice of Almyer.

Frank said that he did not want to do a sequel to Basket Case. He took a script called Insect City to his friend, producer James Glickenhouse. Glickenhouse didn’t think it was filmable and asked Frank for something else. Frank came up with the plot for Frankenhooker right then. When Glickenhouse asked “ what else do you have?” Frank replied ‘ Well, there’s also the sequel to Basket Case. “ So Frankenhooker and Basket Case 2 were filmed back to back.

Former Fangoria editor, Robert “Uncle Bob” Martin co wrote Frankenhooker. I remember him at an early Chiller Con, back when it was called Horrorthon. He was showing the scene of the exploding hookers and telling people how he wrote that scene. Bob sadly passed away a couple of years ago after a long illness. Jeffrey Franken has a one eyed brain in a jar. He uses a power drill to stimulate his brain. He accidentally runs over his girlfriend with a remote controlled lawn mower.

He puts her ‘parts” in a vat of some liquid. He needs body parts and finds that hookers like crack. So he hires a group of them and gives him this super crack that he made that causes them to explode. Frank couldn’t get the SAG actresses to get naked, so he went to a strip bar, Billy’s Topless and hired strippers and porn stars. Look for Heather Hunter in that scene. Jeffrey sews his girl’s head on the body made from hooker parts. 

The creature, played by former Penthouse Pet Patti Mullen, has the hooker mentality. “ Goin out?”, want a date ? Got any money? “ real hookers were in several scenes. Fans originally shit on this film because it was a comedy and relatively bloodless. Frank wanted to call Basket Case 2 House of Freaks and use the original characters sparingly. The producers wanted the two back , so they “survived” the fall from the first film , escaped from the hospital with the help of Granny Ruth , their Aunt. Granny has established a haven for freaks, but nosey reporters are looking for the escaped pair. There is a sex scene between Belial and a female version of him that reportedly disgusted a few crew members so much that they walked off the set.

Basket Case 3: The Progeny has Belial a proud papa. Then the local Sheriff steals his offspring and kills them. Belial and the freaks get bloody revenge as they take out the entire sheriff’s department. This one went right to home video. Frank used actress, Beverly Bonner , in all of his films. Beverley made an appearance at the Hennelotter Fest held at Cinema Wasteland. She was a very sweet lady who sadly is no longer with us. 

Frank dropped off the map for almost 20 years. He was a regular customer at NYC Liquidators. I asked him what he was doing and he told me that he was directing music videos under a pseudonym. Frank would return in 2008 with his most outrageous film yet, Bad Biology. I was at the premier held at The Pioneer Two Boots Theater on the Lower East Side. It was a blast, the film was over the top. Fellow director, Bill Grefe , told me that he loves Frank, but boy does he make some fucked up films.

Frank is pretty much retired at this point. The death of his close friend, Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video, hit him and myself hard. Frank has had health issues over the years and pretty much keeps to himself. He was on the documentary 42nd Street Memories which runs on Tubi a lot and is an extra on the Pieces Blu ray from Grindhouse Releasing. Frank is one of the few modern directors that ‘got it”. He understood grindhouse films and made some great ones. 

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