Color, 2008, 84 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Frank Henenlotter
Starring Charlee Danielson, Anthony Sneed, Mark Wilson, R.A. the Rugged Man, Remedy, Tina Krause
Severin Films (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Media Blasters (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Revolver (UK R2 PAL), Swift (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
In the 1981 classic Body Heat, Kathleen Turner explains herself early on by saying, "My temperature runs a couple of degrees high, around a hundred. I don't mind. It's the engine or something." On the other hand, in Bad Biology, the long-awaited directorial return of Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case) after a sixteen-year hiatus, the female protagonist Jennifer (Danielson) runs somewhere around three hundred. See, she's an aspiring, seemingly demure photographer who immediately informs us in voiceover that she's equipped with seven clitorises. Even worse, as we see soon after, she's easily prone to overexcitement and tends to literally bang
her lovers to death (which she captures in photos), followed by a quickly-produced mutant offspring she dispenses into the trash.
Of course, the film's tagline that this is a "godawful love story" means we have to have another person in the mix, and here it's the unlucky Batz (Steed), a young man who copes with a nasty surgical mishap during his birth by abusing steroids and other drastic measures (including a gigantic homemade jerk-off machine) to enhance his reattached manhood. Unfortunately said genitalia develops a mind of its own and lurches out of control inside his pants, a trait noticed by Jennifer when the two finally happen to be in the same room during a bizarre photo shoot for a rap artist. After seeing his monster unsheathed for a few seconds, Jennifer determines that Batz's "gift" is her destiny... but things don't go quite according to plan.
No one familiar with the career of Frank Henenlotter could possibly predict where each new project would take him as he lurched from the Times Square griminess of Basket Case to the psychedelic smut-horrors of Brain Damage and the Shapiro/Glickenhaus era Day-Glo horror cartoons of Frankenhooker and the two Basket Case sequels. While the outrageous affinity for exaggerated sexuality and body horror are still well in place here, his aesthetic has definitely changed to more of a clean, spare, brightly-lit approach that will disorient more than a few fans, not to mention the expected seasoning of hip-hop music on the soundtrack. Fortunately he still has his mojo, delivering a string of frenzied set pieces worthy of his legacy and a few artsy touches you might not expect. The mostly new actors are definitely troopers, especially the compelling Danielson whose physical energy and go-for-broke attitude far exceed her sometimes unsteady line readings. Die hards will also be amused by some sly nods to his Something Weird connection, including a few well-placed VHS titles and an unexpected vintage cameo by Uschi Digard. Even by Henenlotter standards, you've never seen anything quite like this... and be sure to stick around through the end credits.
A low-budget indie film, Bad Biology made the rounds at various film festivals and one-off screenings while navigating the nightmarish terrain of modern film distribution. The first DVD on the market came in the UK from Revolver as a Region 2 release without any extras (and ditto for the French release under the title Sex Addict!), but fortunately fans got much more bang for their buck with the U.S. DVD in 2010 from Media Blasters which features a superior anamorphic transfer (no iffy PAL conversion like the Revolver disc) and a strong Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. (Both discs also contain a very processed, unappetizing 5.1 mix that's best ignored.) The Media Blasters extras live up to the usual Henenlotter standard with his usual supplemental sidekick, rapper R.A. the Rugged Man (most infamous for the location doc on the Basket Case disc and major financier of this production), joining him for a lively commentary track. You'll learn which cast member was recently released from jail before shooting, how the cameo from Basket Case alum Beverly Bonner came off, the digestive difficulties of Sneed during his first naked day of shooting, and the real identities of many of Jennifer's unfortunate victims. Clay Patrick McBride, the hip-hop photographer responsible for the very striking photo souvenirs of Jennifer's victims at the moment of climax and death, gets the spotlight for a funny video featurette, "Fuck Face" (7m59s), showing him, Danielson, and Henenlotter coaching a string of male victims through their paces, and you get a really graphic Henenlotter music for R.A.'s "I Should'a Never" complete with a sex scene covered in spaghetti, a rifle barrel popping from a woman's crotch, and R.A. yanking his brain from his skull and smashing it to pieces on the floor. Also included is McBride's promo for R.A.'s "Legendary Classics Volume 1," the original trailer, a slew of production stills and promotional artwork, and bonus Shriek Show trailers for Late Fee, Psychos in Love, Scream and Smash Cut. A subsequent Blu-ray / DVD combo also came out from Media Blasters, but image quality was identical to the SD predecessor and not a discernible upgrade at all.
In 2023, Severin Films delivered a significantly improved new edition on UHD and Blu-ray in hardcover book packaging, featuring a significant upgrade in quality with actual film grain, tangible textures, and more image in the frame. It's also surprising to note that a bit of frontal nudity that was optically blacked out at the 8-minute mark is no longer censored. The usual DTS-HD MA 2.0 English stereo mix sounds solid as always, while the 5.1 track here is truer to the source and more pleasing than the one we've had in the past; optional English SDH subtitles are also included. In addition to the original commentary track ported over here, a new commentary with Henenlotter, Sneed, and director of photography Nick Deeg is lots of fun as they swap memories about the various cast members, more funny quirks about doing nude scenes, resemblances to films that came later, the origins of the main title footage, and lots more. The McBride featurette is also carried over, but there's a ton of new video material here as well. "Spook House" (30m31s) is a fun Halloween-set reunion at a very familiar spook location in Brooklyn intercut with new interview footage with Henenlotter, Sneed, R.A., Deeg, production coordinator Michael Shershenovich, and more (including "a retired detective" related to Henenlotter and the creepy history behind the house). "In the Basement with Charlee Danielson" (3m40s) is a 2006 video piece you just have to see for yourself. "Deeg and Sneed" (66m52s) is exactly what it indicates, a lively free-form conversation between the actor and cinematographer about how they got involved in the film, their respective backgrounds, their memories of R.A. and Henenlotter, and other side projects they crisscrossed over along the way. In "Swollen Agenda" (11m47s), makeup effects artist Gabe Bartalos looks back at some of the more outrageous moments he had to concoct in the film ranging from our heroine's bloody relationship monologue to the most memorable rampaging creation that punches the film up to a whole new level in the final act. "Beyond Bad" (31m46s) is an archival behind-the-scenes featurette showing Henenlotter at work coaching numerous scenes from the film, while "Suck" (11m59) is a pretty demented short by Sneed about a couple torn apart by a peculiar obsession after moving into a new apartment, while "Legendary Loser" is a new R.A. music video. Last but definitely not least is a massive 241-image gallery with lots of production photos, international video art, and other sordid odds and ends.
Severin Films (Blu-ray)
Media Blasters (DVD)
Updated review on June 29, 2023