Frank Henenlotter Q&A (Horrorthon 2014) part two

Part two of the Frank Henenlotter Q&A at IFI Horrorthon 2014. Read part one here.



FrankenhookerFrank Henenlotter: I had a film I wanted to make after I made Basket Case called Insect City, but nobody wanted to touch it, nobody liked it. So I learned that Jim Glickenhaus who’s probably best known as the director of films like Exterminator, Shakedown, The Soldier, a really good actor and director, he started his own company called Shapiro-Glickenhaus and I thought maybe he’d like to do it, so I sent him the script and we spoke on the phone and he said to me, “Well… come in and talk” and I didn’t know if that was good or bad, but anyway I went in and he said, “I really like the script Insect City, and I will never in my life put a penny into it.” I said why, and he goes, “No one would ever pay to see this.” Now I think he’s right, ok, but at the time I was like, oh ok so… and then he said to me, “What else do you have?” That was it, I had Insect City, I didn’t have anything else, but I realise I’m sitting across from a guy who wants to make a movie with me and can afford it so I said, “Oh well I got this story about, you know kind of like the movie The Brain That Wouldn’t Die only kind of an updated version where this guy’s girlfriend gets killed…” and Jim went, “How does she die?” and I said, “Oh, in a… lawnmower accident.” Before long, it felt like I was doing a stand-up comedy act, I was describing a script that never existed before, and telling it to him, and he knew I was making this up too, and I guess we did about forty minutes of the story and I couldn’t go any further and I said, “Well you know where it’ll go from there…” I didn’t, and he says to me, “Oh that’s great, what you going to call it?” “I…” So right away you know your brain goes fast, and I’m going… Frankenprostitute, no… Frankenslut… Franken this, Franken that… Frankenhooker… “Frankenhooker!” He went, “Oh, I love it!” And then he said, “Anything else?” And I said, “Well, we could always do a sequel to Basket Case.” Because I know that was one that people always ask me about. So he said, “Oh, I like it, which one do you want to do?” And I said, “Why don’t we do both? Shoot them back to back.” And that’s what we did, he gave me three million dollars, back then you could spend that kind of money and get it back from a film.

So I shot two films back to back in New York, and we did very serious pre-production planning, so we knew for instance that Jeffery’s lab would also be the attic used for the freaks because both had to be elevated so we could have the puppeteers underneath, and Gabe Bartolis who did the special effects, he was doing the makeup effects for both movies simultaneously. Anyway we shot Frankenhooker first because it needed time for the special effects to get printed and made, you know pre-CGI, although Basket Case 2 was released first. Frankenhooker, which was actually my third film, was released after that.

frankenhookerThis is a film that I never intended to be a horror comedy really, there’s no blood or gore. It irritated a lot of people back then, but it wouldn’t have worked like that, they wouldn’t have laughed. I wanted laughter for this film. I don’t watch my own movies but this has the one sequence I watch… if I’m going to be remembered, I want it on my tombstone to say ‘This is the man who exploded eight hookers with super crack in a hotel room.’ I just find that hilarious and I can watch it every minute of the day and I have tears coming from my eyes laughing.

Post Screening Q&A

Paul Duane: The music was by an Oscar winning composer…

FH: Yeah, Joe Renzetti, he won the Oscar for The Buddy Holly Story. How he got involved with this, I don’t know! No, he was a friend of Jim Glickenhaus. Jim Glickenhaus was responsible for the songs they played during the crack party, they were singing, ‘Never Say No’, in fact that’s Jim Glickenhaus’s voice saying ‘Russian rouletters never die.’ Everything we can do to irritate the MPAA, the ratings board.

PD: To talk about Frankenhooker we have to start by talking about The Brain That Wouldn’t Die which underlies this film and is one of my favourite exploitation movies of all time.

The Brain That Wouldn't DieFH: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die was made in 1959 but not released until 1961, and even when it was released in the States, American International released it, they cut it, they removed some gore scenes that were pretty transgressive at the time. A guy gets his arm cut off and manages to smear his stomach across an entire wall, goes into another room then turns around and comes back down and resmears the wall before he falls down. They had a monster that’s a giant pinhead that comes out. Eddie Carmell who was a real life giant, he comes out of the closet, I mean literally in the film, the closet of the mad doctors mistakes, and he comes out and bites the back of the mad doctors head and holds up what looks like raw bacon and throws it, and it was enough that they got it cut. It was a film I grew up and loved and always thought it would be fun to do a kind of remake of it without doing a remake of it, you know. So I just borrowed the idea of a woman dying and the fiancée tries to bring her back. But years later, after Frankenhooker was out, the director of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Joseph Green, he thought I had done a direct remake and he was not happy with me. So we set up a screening and met and I said, “Hi Joe, I’m a big fan.” and he said, “Yeah, well I haven’t seen my check yet.” So he watched the film and he just laughed from beginning to end and the first thing he said to me was, “Oh my God, you had money!” And he had no problem with it, “Oh Frank, I love it, I love it.”

PD: The big element that you took from it was the idea of this guy trying to create a new body for the girl, but he’s also looking for the best looking body parts.

FH: Well that’s what he’s doing in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, he’s going to strip clubs, and that’s what I started doing. This was one of the few union films I made, it had to be because we were very visible filming in Manhattan at the time and filming out in the streets the way we were we would have gotten caught, so we went to the unions and it was a Screen Actors Guild production. So I tried to do it the way they wanted me to but when I was casting hookers the women that were sent to me were either, they were beautiful but “I won’t do nudity for you!” or… you didn’t want them to do nudity. So I did this for a couple of weeks and I called up SAG and said I did it your way, it’s not working, so fine me, punish me but I’m going out and finding the cast. So I didn’t really know what I was going to do but I thought I’ll go to strip clubs to find the cast for the film, figuring strippers would have the least problem, they look beautiful and they wouldn’t care about nudity. The first place I went to was a place called Billy’s Topless on 23rd St, it’s not there any more, but how blunt is the title – Billy’s Topless! I walked in there, I’d never been in the place before and I look up and see this long runway for the girls, and I look over at the bar and who do I see sitting at the bar but the guy who wrote Frankenhooker with me! Bob Martin, he used to be the editor of Fangoria, and Bob says, “Frank, what are you doing here?” I said, “I’m trying to get women for our movie.” I said, “What are you doing here?” he said, “Staring at the unobtainable…” So we hired the blonde girl with the Swedish accent, once we got her, she basically said, “I’ll get you some of my friends.” She got us everybody and it was great, this one’s in Penthouse, this one’s in Playboy. My favourite of course was Patty Mullen who played Elizabeth and she was a Penthouse Pet of the year, one of the sweetest, most charming people, I loved her because she didn’t look like a ‘Scream Queen’ per se, she looked like a girl next door and I thought she had that innocence that was just marvelous, delightful person and three days before I came here she just happened to call me, and whenever she calls me, I have an answering machine on all the time, she never gives a name, you know, leave a message, beep, and she goes, “Goin’ out? Wanna date? Lookin’ for some action? Want some company?

PD: How did you direct her? Because she was so brilliant.

FH: I told her first of all, I showed her Boris Karloff and said I want that lumbering and then I said, “Can you do anything with your face?” and when she did that weird face I started laughing and I said, “Patty, as long as you can make me laugh, you’re doing a performance.” And she was a delight to work with, so was James Lorinz, I was so lucky that I had those two, unfortunately they had almost no screen time together but that was the fault of the script. James Lorinz made it look like he was making it up on the spot, and for a good chunk of the film he was. He never ad libbed on camera because that’s unprofessional, but as we were working out the scenes he would do additional lines, as long as I laughed, and if I didn’t laugh he didn’t want to do them. So he’d try out a line then go, “Alright, skip it.” he’ll do another one and I’ll start laughing, and he always made me laugh, and even when he’s doing dialog that’s exactly scripted, he made it sound like an ad lib. So I had a wonderful cast, it’s what the film needed.

Shirley StolerI don’t know if anyone here saw Brain Damage the other night but the voice of Aylmer was the TV weatherman, horror host Zacherley. I couldn’t credit him in that one because it was non SAG, and he was SAG, but this was SAG. And Shirley Stoler, she showed up on set one day, literally, I’m in my office and hear a knock on the door, “Frank, Shirley Stoler’s here to see you.” I love The Honeymoon Killers, I love Seven Beauties, I love Shirley Stoler, I was intimidated meeting her and she said, “I heard about the film, I just popped by to see if there’s anything I can do” and I said, “Even if you’d been here the first day, there’s really not big parts to give you” she said, “Doesn’t matter, I’ll do anything” so I said, “You can be the bartender.” She said, “I’m happy to” and we had a great time. And what’s weirder, I never wanted my parents to see the films, when I was growing up my parents were Irish Catholic conservatives, I always had to be home early, so I didn’t think Brain Damage and Basket Case were films that they should see. With Frankenhooker, my mother informed me that they’re going to the premiere in New York. When the film was over, my mother stands up and she shouts, “Oh it’s nothing, it was just tits!” At the party about an hour later I look around and there’s my mom and Shirley Stoler sitting there shooting the shit.

PD: The film feels like the perfect grindhouse movie, something that was made for 42nd St.

FH: Absolutely, but it never played there. I thought, if this film had played in Times Square it would have run for ten years. It would have been the perfect Times Square film. By 1990 all of that was dead already, America lost three quarters of it’s movie theatres in a very short period, just went out of business, and most of those were smaller theatres that catered to the grindhouse and exploitation film market, so when they died so did all the companies that catered to them and made these kind of films and so did Shapiro-Glickenhaus, and most shocking of all, 42nd St disappeared, so it was the last gasp of something.

PD: It was also a period of cultural puritanism in America.

FH: Oh it always was, you can’t escape that, there’s always a right-wing, usually Christian element that is eager to tell you what you’re doing wrong, that’s just the way it is there. And I mean to irritate them. When I was growing up Catholic, they had the Legion of Decency, that was how Catholics controlled the ratings of films because if they condemned a film they would have the priests tell the parishioners not to go see it and films would lose money that way. You had to take the Legion of Decency pledge at mass once a year and all I would do is fantasise about what I was missing and I remember thinking if I ever got a chance to make movies I would have so much gratuitous nudity just to make up for this!

frankenhookerThe MPAA attacked Frankenhooker with a vengence, even to get an R rating. Get this, even to get an R rating they made us cut the scene where Jeffrey is examining the hookers with a magnifying glass. What, are you kidding? It’s not even sex! He’s just looking at naked women for medical purposes! We had to cut that part for an R rating and etc etc. They made us cut the scene in the crack bar, that was based on a real bar that was right around the corner from 42nd St, and that’s what that place was like, I mean slightly exaggerated but not by much, ok. And when we were shooting it there was one shot which I thought, I remember joking on the set, this will be my anti-drug, shock film, this is my message film, and we had Ari Roussimoff in a tuxedo, big heavy guy who’s also a film maker, he’s smoking a crack pipe and I pan from him to this emaciated thin guy and we put heavy sweat on him and I thought, ‘before and after.’ That’s the one shot that the MPAA was specific about cutting because they said I was glorifying drugs! I mean, you cannot deal with them. We were in battle with them on this film, we thought this was an R rated film. We sent the film off to be rated and the head of the rating board calls up Shapiro-Glickenhaus and gets the secretary on the phone and goes, “Congratulations. You have the first film rated S.” “S, you mean S for Sex?” He goes, “No, S for Shit!” Well, you’re not supposed to review the films you assholes, you’re supposed to rate them. So Jim Glickenhaus went public with that quote and embarrassed the hell out of the MPAA. We had a long running feud, they gave us an X rating and we said we’re not taking it, we want an R and we fought and fought and fought till finally Shapiro-Glickenhaus said you know what, f*ck it, f*ck the R, we’re going to go out unrated. They eventually wanted an R rated version to sell on VHS to get it into crap places like Blockbuster which is another one of those things that, “Oh if it’s unrated we don’t want it in our store.” Well if it’s unrated I wouldn’t get it from your store, I wouldn’t be a member of your store if I couldn’t buy unrated films. They banned The Last Temptation of Christ, they said it was offensive. So those are the enemies you avoid. We made such a stink, we were always concerned when we did Basket Case 2 whether we could show Belial and the mutant monster screw. Why not? But you’re dealing with an irrational censor board, that’s what they are, they’re censors and they’re also funded by the majors so the majors can get away with anything, it’s the independents that get slammed so they can therefore say, “We gave X ratings to x amount of films.”

PD: There’s nothing in there that Woddy Allen or Mel Brooks couldn’t have gotten away with if they chose to do it.

FH: When we were fighting the censors I said to them, “You’re talking about violence where there isn’t a drop of blood, yet you just gave an R to Die Hard 2 where he sticks an icicle in some one’s eyeball! That’s ok? What are you talking about?” “Well we are not here to discuss Die Hard.” So in some ways it’s a lost cause.

PD: Things have changed and you can do what you want now.

FH: I won’t submit anything to the ratings board, I never will again. If I have a film and the distributor wants it sold, let him pay for it, let him do it, I can’t be bothered with it.

Question from audience: <First part inaudible> Is there anywhere in the world where if you had to film it again, you would film it there?

frankenhookerFH: Well no, but even back then, you couldn’t film on those hooker streets, it would have been too much, we faked that, except for at the very beginning, when Jeffrey is in his car driving, those are real hookers that you see him looking at, those are real working girls. We knew where they were and we shot in that area because it was lit enough for us to record, but the second time the car passed they were already savvy and they ducked away, so we didn’t get much. But we ended up filming on really decent streets that we cluttered with garbage. You really can’t film in the locations you want to, trust me. When I did Basket Case I shot on 42nd St, so much of the footage I couldn’t use because it was interrupted. You know by people who, “I wanna be in your movie!” Well, “No you can’t, good bye!” I was just filming in New Orleans last year and we had the camera set up by the side of the street, it was in the street but any car could easily go by, and this car comes charging right at us, and I’m thinking, oh God, this is it, and the woman stops right in front of the camera and she goes, “Can I be in your movie?” And I said, “You already are!”

Question from audience: Were you ever approached to make a sequel to Frankenhooker?

FH: Well not by SGE [Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment]. To me I felt the story was complete. Even though I’m the guy who made three Basket Case movies, I don’t particularly like sequels. I like Basket Case 2 because it was a total rethinking of the first one, but I don’t like Basket Case 3 because it was just more of the same old shit. But we get asked about this all the time, I get e-mails a couple of times a year going, “I want to turn Frankenhooker into a musical, can I have the rights?” “Well, sure, what do you think… no!” I get that a lot. The woman who played the head hooker who gets her head blown off, she informed me that she already wrote the sequel and it’s about Jeffrey collecting body parts from a whorehouse and she’s the head whore there and I said that sounds horrible and she said, “I already got the money.” I said, “You don’t have the rights and you’re not getting them from me!” And she was not happy.

Even if I wanted to do a sequel to Frankenhooker, which I don’t, but even if I wanted to, there’s no market for it. I would have to shoot it for something so cheap and pathetic that it wouldn’t even resemble the first film. I always wanted to make a Frankenstein movie, I love Frankenstein, and to me it’s a good Frankenstein movie if it’s got a good lab scene. I love the Hammer films, and I was so pissed off that Frankenstein Created Woman didn’t have a lab scene. Otherwise it was a good film. So I love lab scenes and we were lucky, we got all that equipment from Con Edison, but that cost money, it just does, I needed money for a budget, I needed money for an art department and all that, I needed money to get those parts and the opticals, and you’re paying a pyrotechnic guy a lot of money to blow up hookers.

frankenhooker gifWhat’s funny about that, if I can go into that for a minute, we didn’t know how many explosives would blow up a hooker. We did something clever with that, this was pre-CGI, so how do you blow up a hooker? The idea we came up with is, we would have them come to a pose, a death-pose, like this or like that, and once we decided what that pose would be we’d take pictures of it, and then Gabe made these beautiful statues of them, took body casts of them, we brought them in, we filmed the scene, cut, and while they were still there we would trace them on a TV monitor and put the model in and hope we get it right and then cut right on the frame of light of the explosion. So some of it looked great like when the asian girl’s head was flying off, but I wanted them to all look like fireworks, I wanted this to be like some idiot fourth of July celebrations. So the pyrotechnic guy starts conservative, so with the first girl, we bring in the dummy, “Ok, action!” and it goes pffffft… and there’s this little splutter and a little bit of smoke and we realise that her lips are on fire, and that was about it. So I said, “Put in everything you have. Do two hundred times more.” That’s how we got these great explosions and it was wonderful, the flaming hooker parts were falling on us, actually flaming and falling on our heads as we were filming this, the crew were freaking out, I was loving the fact I was getting burned by this, it made it real, I dunno, I just thought it was wonderful. We had the fire department we had to have there and all this other nonsense because it was a union job, the guy from the fire department’s watching this and he was not amused, “People could get seriously hurt, you’re blowing up hookers.” I’m going, “Ha ha!”

Question from audience: At the time this was on VHS which is just a bit of plastic with some magnetic tape, and really cheap. Has the new technology made making films too expensive to do, compared to the three million that you made this on?

FH: No it’s all about distribution. Once upon a time you could make a film for a million five, like this one, and you’d get that money back. Now you’d have to make the same film for three hundred thousand, a significant drop. Even if I shot it on high def, I still wouldn’t have the budget to match the look, it’s not the film stock, it’s everything else. There isn’t a lot of money in distribution now, you really have to be Hollywood, you can’t be independent or you’re not going to make it, the margins for making money as an independent is not what it once was. But you talk about the VHS, the VHS on this film is what made it. The film was an enormous hit on VHS, and it had nothing to do with me or the movie, it had to do with Jim Glickenhaus coming up with the greatest promotional gimmick to sell VHS; he had talking boxes made. It was thicker than an average box, because it had a little battery and a little speaker inside and you press a button, and you hear the box go, “Wanna date?” I was in video stores in ’91 and all you’d hear in the store is, “Wanna date? Wanna date?” because everybody’s pressing those goddamn boxes. Sales went through the roof, it was like the greatest William Castle gimmick he ever came up with.

PD: I think you’re doing yourself down a bit because you did a great movie, with a great title.

FH: But it was his ad campaign that got it seen. People noticed the movie not because I directed it, but because the box talked.

PD: And there was a sexy girl on the cover!

FH: And she looked like a monster, and she was saying “Wanna date?” I do, I do!

Frank Henenlotter Q&A (Horrorthon 2014) part one

Frank Henenlotter was the guest of honour at the IFI Horrorthon 2014. Frank presented four films at the festival – Basket Case, Brain Damage, Frankenhooker and his new documentary That’s Sexploitation.  This is a transcript of Frank’s introductions and Q&A sessions. Thanks to Colin McCracken for putting the Q’s into the Q&A.

Basket Case


basket caseFrank Henenlotter: I’d intended to make kind of a more serious film, but when I saw we had nothing to work with I kind of encouraged everybody to give a broader performance and I threw the blood around a little too much, and I remember thinking to myself, well go ahead and finish it because no ones going to ever see it! And back then it was true, back then you could make a film, it would show on 42nd St. and similar skid row theaters and disappear and no one would ever know and I thought that’s fine with me, let me make it, we’ll let somebody show it, and I’ll walk away, and no one will ever… so you know, here we are, decades later and the curse still follows me.

One thing about this though is, this is from a HD master of the film, it finally looks the way it’s supposed to have looked. Somewhere along the line the film got the cheapest dupe negative ever made, and the film was too dark, and too much grain, and it didn’t look like the 16mm original, which at least had bright colours, it was at least… not a good looking film, that’s impossible, it’s Basket Case, but at least it had a more vibrant tone to it. And typically, we lost the negative, we lost the 16mm negative. How could we, me or the producer, lose the goddamn f*cking negative! And we did, and it was lost in plain sight, the whole time it was in a box labelled ‘Brain Damage Prints’. And I went in there one day, and I saw the 16mm cans and I went, oh my god, we’ve had it all this time. So I was able to make this HD from both the 16mm original and from, it wasn’t complete, it had some scenes missing, but from a beautiful 35 IP that we also started the same time. It’s why the film is in 1:33 (square) because when I made it, you know I hold up a camera, it was square, so I shot a square. I was appalled when I saw it theatrically and realised they cut off so much of the top and bottom to release it theatrically 1:85, so it’s a square but you’re actually seeing more rather than less.

Post screening Q&A

Colin McCracken: So Frank, I’d love to start off, if you could tell us a little bit about the environment and atmosphere of the place that led to Basket Case because it was such a fascinating time in history.

FH: Well New York at that time was really going downhill very fast. It was the era when the city was broke, and parts of the city were extremely dangerous to live in. The producer of the film had his office at St. Marks, right between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, across the street was Tompkins Square Park and you did not go into the park, and Alphabet City was further down, and it was really that dangerous, there were parts of the city you had to stay out of. And most people considered the Times Square area that way too, except for me, because that was where all the best movies were, and I would go from Long Island, from High School when I was 15 and get the train to Manhattan just to go to 42nd St. movies all day long and see as much as I could… women in prison movies – fine I love it, blaxploitation -fine I love it, martial arts – fine I love it, badass comedy, action films… as long as it’s a low budget action film, fine I love it. I love action films but I couldn’t afford to do action. So that was the element I grew up with. The audiences were crazy, the stories about the place being infested with such crime, that’s bullshit. And the audiences loved the films and were very… as long as you delivered… and delivered means you had to have blood, violence and tits, you know, and if there was a good dirty joke, they’ll go for that.

Basket CaseAnd that’s what it was, that was the atmosphere, and I loved it, I lived it and I never thought it would go away, and when I was writing Basket Case I thought, you’re supposed to write what you know and I thought, well it would be marvelous if it were set in some phoney baloney fleabag hotel on Times Square. No such place like that existed, they were mostly hooker hotels, there were some really crappy places where I guess you could… we were originally going to do it in a real hotel that wasn’t around the Times Square area, it was on 33rd, it was called The Star Hotel, doesn’t that sound beautiful, and we had spoken to the guy who ran it and we said we need privacy to do this we can’t have people know that we’re making the movie or you know, equipment’s going to go missing. As soon as we pulled up with the van, these guys were outside going “Oh, the movie people are here!”, and that was the end, we never even went into the building. I know how that works, pretty soon they’ll be charging you for watching your equipment that it doesn’t get stolen.

So anyway, that’s what the area was like then, it was a very comfortable city to live in, I hate New York now. New York is now a city for the rich.

CMcC: But you’re still living in the 42nd st. area?

FH: No, I live in Greenwich Village. I’ll give you an example, that area has been so cleaned up, it’s all been Disnified, Disney came in, that f*cking mouse, here’s what his deal was, and it’s not me making this up, he made a deal with the… whoever the stupid mayor was at the time, he would buy the New Amsterdam Theatre, which was probably the most ornate theatre on 42nd st, home of the Ziegfield Follies, beautiful history, and they would refurbish it and that would be their landmark theatre and that’s where they would open The Lion King, but what the Disney people said was, they can’t have a family coming in if there is anywhere within eyesight a porno place. So they couldn’t just throw them out, they had to slowly zone them out, so they had to wait till every single place that had leased a building, those leases had to run out, so it was a long horrible decaying process to watch it all die. But they won, and now Times Square is like a playground for German tourists, its horrible, it’s disheartening, and it’s all family fare. And it’s worse than any time I was… I can’t walk through it now, and the city itself has become a city of the rich. When I first moved into Greenwich Village, there were still the remains of the beatniks for Christ’s sake, there was bohemians, it was like gay central, now all gone, it’s all just rich people drinking in my world.

CMcC: So when you were seeing these films, I assume you started going when you were a teenager, so you were fairly susceptible to influence, how long was it before you decided you wanted to contribute to that, in a cinematic sense?

FH: Well I was always making films on my own, but they were like backyard movies with my friends. I started in 8mm, not Super8, regular 8mm, then I started doing 16mm shorts. But the important thing was, I was making them just to make them I wasn’t making them to show them, I had no interest in showing them, I never had any interest in being a commercial filmmaker, I still don’t think I’m a commercial filmmaker. I think I’m a guy who loves movies who happens to have made a few. This is not a career, it’s just something that’s happened, know what I mean? So I was always making these films and mostly what I was making was comedy, but with a lot of blood and gore in them that was so extreme that no one ever found them funny but I did, I thought it was hilarious. And Basket Case was the closest thing to those earliest movies I made.

basket caseBut I’ll tell you a story about filming on 42nd st, because the footage of walking down the street, there were alternate takes, there was more footage, most of those alternate takes were not used because we couldn’t control the people there. But there’s one scene where you first see him walking down the street and we’re in a van with the door open and I was filming from the side of the van going along, and he walks past a porno store, and it’s such a great shot because you can see all the way in the store. On the first take, we went around, sometimes… when you have your eye on the viewfinder and you’re worried about keeping it in the box, something happens that you don’t even see right away, and there was something in the shot that was wrong and all of a sudden, by the time I realised it it was too late, there was a guy from the porno store who saw us, who charged from the back of the store and dove into our van threatening to kill us all! And I didn’t know what to say and it was Kevin Van Hentenryck who calmed him down. The guy thought we were CBS News, a local news channel, and we kept saying, “No, no, no” and Kevin was saying, “We’re just making a monster movie, look there’s a monster in here” and the guy’s like, “Oh, you’re not… you’re making a…”, and then he got so “Oh, I’m sorry guys, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to…” and we said that’s fine, we’ll go around the block again, and he’s, “That’s fine, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Wow.

CMcC: You described Belial as a malignant jack-in-the-box, so how did you develop it from this initial idea into the feature that we’ve just watched?

Basket CaseFH: I had the work of a very skilled make-up artist who was just starting out in the business, Kevin Haney who had just come from Ohio to meet Dykstra, and before long he was working on Saturday Night Live. In fact Belial was cooked in… we had two Belials; one was the animated Belial which I have at my home and one is the puppet, and one was cooked in Dykstra’s oven and one was cooked in the Saturday Night Live oven. But he did it and you know, I wasn’t sure what Belial should look like, I had some vague ideas, I said I wanted Kevin’s face for half of it, but it was one of those things where you’re working on it and I’d stop by and I remember one time we were running out of plasticine, so we just stuck this coke bottle on the top, and I look and I go, “That’s great! That’s the bone out of his back”, and he looks at me, he goes “Fine, you want a bone, you got a bone. ” And that’s that, and then Kevin put in some wires to make it work. At the time, Kevin, this is Kevin Haney I’m talking about, the makeup artist, at the time he had terrible contempt for the project, we just had no money.

CMcC: It was a long process shooting it as well…

FH: Yeah but he wasn’t involved in that. He delivered Belial and he said to me, “Ok, let me show you how the wires work.” He says, “Alright, you want to make his mouth, you take the…” and he pulls on them and rips them out, “The hell with it.” So now I had to take it home and figure out how to make it work, I took a gardening glove, painted it red and you know, that’s it’s mouth. I was operating Belial in almost all the shots. Back in those days, I was as thin then as I am fat now, and all the scenes where you see that wooden dresser, I’m inside the dresser. I mean, today I could play the dresser. But I’m in there and I have a mirror set up on the other side of the room, trying to practice doing it, you know, so I was playing Belial the whole time, so talk about the glamour of film making, I’m stuck in the dresser looking out through the thing, grabbing the TV set, breaking it off, that’s what you do with a low budget film. We had two gloves to make Belial move, sometime in the film if you look carefully you can see that there’s somebody in behind the Irish guy [Joe Clark], he was a character too, he owns a… oh my God, I didn’t know who he was, I was introduced to him from somebody else, he owned all these gay bars and bathhouses, and he didn’t really own them, the actual owner was in prison and had signed Joe’s’ name on it. He wasn’t aware of this, but remember that film Cruising, well we shot in there, and there were protests all over the city when they were shooting Cruising , the gay community was I think justifiably up in arms about it, and we shot in there the weekend they had just finished. That was one of the bar scenes where he’s sitting down with Beverly in the bar, and there were these giant handcuffs that we couldn’t… we had to shoot around the handcuffs, we had to shoot around… there was a sling, so we just shot around it, and that’s also the basement where the father falls down, and that I had, when the father’s walking there there’s all these objects behind him, I was hiding glory holes, that’s where we were filming, it worked, it looked great on film so why not. But anyway, Joe is a lovely man, he fled back here to Ireland when the Aids epidemic hit Manhattan. The mayor saw this as the perfect opportunity to clean up all the sex clubs in the city, gay or straight he didn’t care, so they were going after all these, and that’s how Joe learned, “Oh my God, they think I own all these?” And he fled back here and then he came back to the states maybe twenty years later and I ran into him again in the club where we filmed, he was back there again. Six months after I was back in touch with him he was crossing the street and hit and run, boom, splattered him all over the goddamn street.

Question from audience:  I just wanted to ask you about the subtext behind the wicker basket, was it something that you…

FH: What subtext? There is no subtext my friend.

Q: Was it a way of looking at the dystopian nature of New York at the time, or was it…

FH: You know why? Because the film was called Basket Case!


That’s Sexploitation!

That's Sexploitation!


FH: Nothing like a sex documentary to begin a Sunday afternoon. This is a very American film because the clips you’re about to see are all a reaction to Hollywood being unable to show sexuality in films. That all stared in 1934 when they had a production code that was heavily influenced by the Catholic church. We don’t go into it that much, but basically the Catholics had their Legion of Decency and if they condemned a film they would denounce it from the pulpits, so as a result the studios were terrified of having a condemned film, so they would bend over backwards. And the Legion of Decency wrote the actual production code, so that’s why married couples cannot sleep in the same bed, that’s why you can’t even show nudity in silhouette, and on and on and on. So what happened was, while Hollywood films were kind of neutered, a sub-industry developed of really rancid, trashy, gutter level films. Nudity was still… you know you could still get busted for that, so the early sexploitation films dealt with content, like God forbid, the a story is about a pregnant woman who’s not married! Dear god! And that’s what you had, or a film dealing with abortion and that stuff. And eventually by the time the fifties came around you started getting some lunacy like nudist camp films. What the hell is a nudist camp film? And then you started getting ‘Nudie Cuties’, and it just started getting crazier and crazier until by the sixties it was non-stop T&A, and it was a whole separate ghetto. I know when I was seventeen and I snuck into the first theatre to see sexploitation films I was thrilled. I was thrilled because it was the only time you could see a bare breasted woman on a giant screen, I didn’t need much else. I didn’t need plot, I just was like, “Woah!”, and that’s what they were about.

That's SexploitationSo, Mike Vraney of Something Wierd, he and I spent about a year just finding these clips and going through every film that Something Weird owned, and also all these loops and stuff and finding these little nuggets of gold, stuff that you wonder, who made this, I mean you’ll see a clip of a very plump young lady naked and covered with plastic cowboys and indians… what? You’ll see another naked lady indoors wearing a scuba mask and fins… am I missing something? And that’s what the joy of this film is about. Fortunately we got the legendary David F. Friedman, who was the producer of films like Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs, and then started his own sexploitation company and cranked out tons and tons of stuff, in fact he was head of the Adult Film Association of America, and he died a few months after we filmed him but he was in rare form in this, he’s very frail physically but his mind was so sharp, he knew dates, times, people involved and everything, he was a great asset to this film.

But one thing I want to warn you about is it runs two hours sixteen minutes, and that’s because we figured the life of the film is really going to be on home video, it’s not really for sitting in the theatre for two hours and sixteen minutes and watching it, but once we figured, I’d rather give people more filth than less.


Brain Damage

brain damage


FH: We’re not going to do a Q&A at the end of this one, so I’ll answer your questions if you have any and try to tell you what this was about. This was my second film, and I had a couple of dollars to spend this time, which is why it doesn’t looks as… you know, ratty as Basket Case. This was shot on 35mm and I had a dolly, oh my God! And I just thought I’d be fun to do a film about, well two things, one is, it’s the legend of Faust, and you can tell that story a thousand different ways and it still works, it doesn’t matter, the moment you sell your soul it just works beautifully. I thought mixing that with a subject which is seldom done in film which is addiction, you know, this was drug addiction but almost any kind of addiction . I’m not interested in, god forbid, I’m not afraid of vampires, or zombies or werewolves or anything, but addiction yeah, and I had a serious… I went through some serious addiction problems, which is why I understood what I was doing in the film. Some of it is a little more real than I care to admit ok, although I’m admitting it.

ZacherleyOne of the things is the voice of Aylmer. In the United States his voice was a little more recognised, it was a man named Zacherle, John Zacherle, and when horror movies were first sold to television in the late fifties, they had TV horror hosts and Zacherle was the best of them, he was brilliant and I grew up watching horror movies with Zacherle on TV. He eventually became a DJ for over twenty years, beautiful, beautiful voice. The man turned ninety-six two weeks ago, just incredible, he’s still around, he’s always in a good mood, he’s always perpetually happy and he has the greatest voice ever. I know that when we were making it there was a moment where, when Alymer’s in the sink in the fleabag hotel, we needed to change the… to match the synch… he’s in the “sink” but we’re matching the “synch”. So anyway, we needed to redo it so I actually did it, I did a pretty good imitation of him and he loved it, and to this day I can’t, I don’t remember where that line is but you know it’s like, any time I meet him he goes, (in an Aylmer/Zacherle voice) “All right Frank, do one for me – hey Frank how are ya, how are ya, hahahahahahaha – oh you sound just like me it’s wonderful, wonderful!”

Question from audience: Did you write Aylmer’s tune?

FH: No, no, that’s a famous song, that’s an old song, apparently it was written by an undertaker.

Question from audience: Have you ever been asked can it be remade?

FH: I don’t want the remakes, I wrote these characters for a specific time and purpose. I get asked about Basket Case all the time but mostly Frankenhooker, ‘Oh, I want to do a musical about Frankenhooker’… go away! There was a remake of Basket Case that sounded like it could be worth doing, it sounded like I would get a lot of money till I saw what the terms were, then ‘Oh, I get twenty-five dollars, and a banana… wow it’s irresistible!’

Question from audience: Did you always know what Aylmer was going to look like?

aylmerFH: No, and I didn’t know what Belial was going to look like, I sort of saw Aylmer like maybe an eel, and it wasn’t until we started sketching it, we did an early sketch, and this is the first film I worked on with Gabe Bartolis who became my go-to guy for all the effects since then, and he started doing a large maquette of it and that’s when we started seeing the potential for it… give him suckers! I actually have the big Aylmer head and unfortunately he’s severely rotted, so am I in many ways.

Making Brain Damage led to me making Frankenhooker in the sense that, we filmed this in a button factory or a belt factory, I forget now, it was an abandoned floor below whatever factory it was. We rented two floors, one for the effects, one to shoot the movie, it was in a terrible location but what the hell. It was on 33rd St and… well, you don’t know Manhattan, but it was right across the street from the railroad tracks and this was hooker central at night, and this was particularly because the traffic would be guys in cars who’d come up and the gals would run out, and the cars would be lined up around the block. It was pretty fascinating. This was right around the time of the crack explosion in New York. I would come to work, come to the set, early in the morning, and all that was on the sidewalk were used condoms and crack vials. So you’d go (mimes stepping on used condoms and crack vials) ‘crunch! squelch! crunch! squelch!’ I mean there was no way around it. And then I’d go in many days I’d open it up and there’d be a gal in there with a pipe, “You know the sun’s already up?” “No, really…” “Yeah, better run…” So that led to crack on the brain when it came to Frankenhooker.

Question from audience: Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

FH: Exciting? No… But I have a film that we’re finishing this December, it’s not a horror film though, it’s not even exploitation, none of my fans are going to like it, but it’s a true story about three Williamsburg, Brooklyn hipsters who are so enamoured of street art that they go to New Orleans to steal a piece of Banksy art right off the side of a building. I knew these kids and the story just fell into my lap so why not make it.

I’m also doing a documentary about comic book artist Mike Diana who was the first and only comic book… What?

Comment from audience: I’m a big Mike Diana fan.

FH: You should tell him that, he’s here.

Comment from audience: What?

Frank points out Mike Diana to general surprise.

FH: He’s the first comic book artist, maybe the first and only, ever to be arrested for obscenity in the United States in 1994. When he told me about it I thought this was so unbelievable so we’re doing a documentary on that and it’s pretty good. I went down to Austin, Texas to meet with the prosecutor who wanted to put him away for three years in prison for drawing what he thought were dirty pictures. Un-fucking-believable. I mean America, the land of the free, you know what I’m saying? You have to fight for your rights and that’s what this film is reminding everybody.

Frank will discuss Frankenhooker in part two, coming soon!