Ah, Frank Henenlotter. The director we deserve, but not the one we need. Or something.
In Basket Case, the titular character (actually Belial) is literally carried in a basket by his siamese twin brother (Duane). They were separated at birth and somehow the deformed twin survived and is the driving force in trying to find the doctors responsible for revenge. Duane, the more normal of the brothers, has found a date and is now hesitent about the plan.
In Bad Biology, Jennifer is a mutant of sorts, who has multiple vaginas and gives birth to pseudohuman babies a couple of hours after sex (which she quickly discards). Batz, on the other hand, has a huge penis, which he needs to keep under control by using tranquilizers and industrial equipment to “milk” himself. Their meeting changes both of their lives.
Basket Case was Henenlotter’s first movie in 1982. He made four more movies (including two sequels for Basket Case) before retiring from directing in 1991 only to return in 2008 with Bad Biology. He used the time to do his best to save a bunch of exploitation movies from obscurity. He has confessed a love for exploitation and sees his own films that rather than horror. Obviously these are not mutually exclusive, but approaching a movie as exploitation will definitely have different results than approaching it as horror.
While Henenlotter seems to see exploitation as a stylistic choice, it does have a history of being exactly what is says on the tin: exploiting current trends, often preying on the fears of populace at large. Here’s a great example of this:
Well, it wasn’t exploitation originally, as it was made by a church group as an actual warning under the name Tell Your Children, but soon enough a company noticed that the fearmongering worked and people were actually interested in seeing the movie and paying for it. We also see this in Ed Wood, when a producer asks the titular hero to make a transvestite film for the smaller markets he felt he could sell anything to (which was a notion later proven wrong by Netflix users, who early on in those remote areas use the service specifically for the more arts-y movies). This resulted in Glen/Glenda.
Henenlotter does have similar elements, but they also aren’t the main focus. He seems to be more in line with transgressive comedians or musicians, who want to push us into accepting certain things we should be accepting of. Take Casey from Basket Case. She’s a sex worker, but instead of being vilified by the movie, she’s just a nice lady. She befriends Duane and looks after him. Sure, hooker with a heart of gold is a common trope, but Casey isn’t a love interest or a victim for Belial. She’s just a person.
Of course, Belial himself is an interesting case. Sure, it’s murderous rages are mostly just funny due to the low production value (although considering the budget, they are very fine), but he has a tragic backstory. He was separated from his twin against both of their wills and discarded as nothing more than garbage. Who wouldn’t be a bit miffed after that?
The relationship between Duane and Belial is also interesting. They are brothers, but Belial is very dependent on Duane, which makes their relationship quite unhealthy. Belial has resorted to being manipulative and is obviously scared when he notices that Duane is looking to establish a life outside of their current situation. They still love each other, but there is a strain on their relationship. And yes, you can get all of this from that rubber toy, which was all they could afford, which sort of makes Henenlotter a great director.
While Basket Case is weirdly touching, I find Bad Biology much funnier. Jennifer has fully embraced her sexual side and is not afraid to express her openness with sexuality in her photography. Batz, on the other hand, has largely retreated from human interactions. He still needs to maintain his drug connections and some income for that purpose, but otherwise he is occupied with keeping his penis managed.
There’s many exploitation elements here: Jennifer just abandons her deformed offspring as some sort of weird pro choice statement and Batz’s member’s actually has a mind of its own (quite literally). Both of these result in various situations, which would make conservative heads explode (quite figuratively, but they would get so red you wouldn’t be quite sure). At some point each of the main characters just looks at the camera and breaks the fourth wall, which seems really out of place, but I guess the idea was to be economical by just having them explain certain things they couldn’t explain otherwise. Jennifer doesn’t exactly have anyone she could tell about her “babies” within the movie, so the way she just leaves them wherever would stop us from liking her. And I understand if it still does.
Rewatching these after many years I did find them better than I remembered. Like John Waters or early Peter Jackson, I don’t find his movies that great, but I do like that he and his work exist. We need people like this.