A circumstantial genre (determined after-the-fact on its audience being punchy, bleary-eyed, and thoroughly snotted), midnight movies live on at the Screening Room, this week with the two formative films in the hemorrhaging oeuvre of Frank Henenlotter, who, after his mutative 1990 one-two of Frankenhooker and the Bosch-on-sweet-air triumph of Basket Case 2, has more or less slipped the radar. (A Basket Case 3 saw tape in ’92, but that’s all he wrote.) A giggly trailer-trash cousin to Cronenberg by way of E.C. Comics and sideshow taboo, Henenlotter looked into corners others understandably avoid, and did so with tremendous focus and misanthropic wit, if not a great deal of depth. His first film, 1981’s Basket Case, is so cheap the lights are rarely turned on, but Henenlotter’s parable about a Times Square inhabitant plagued by his separated-at-birth, basket-dwelling “half-brother” is so loaded with urban-Gothic family dread that the subtext is barely sub-. Likewise, Henenlotter’s Brain Damage (1987) takes off where Cronenberg’s Shivers and Rabid left off, getting uncomfortably intimate with the denizens of a Manhattan apartment building as the addictive, psychosis-inducing juices of a wisecracking parasite with teeth make the rounds. Imagine, because Henenlotter has, that your favorite STD mocked you to your face and sang old show tunes as you writhed in agony.
The following two weekends, the Screening Room hits a relatively milder note with Wes Craven’s it’s-only-a-movie-it’s-only-a-movie-it’s-only-a-movie debut, 1972’s The Last House on the Left, the first exploitation quickie to mix ‘n’ match vomit bags (made available back in the Nixon days) and Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. The Mansonesque vibe also reverbs throughout the accompanying I Drink Your Blood (’71), in which rabies-infected hippies eat each other and anyone else within reach. If you think you’ve got something better to do at midnight, you’re probably right.