“Wanna date? Going out? Looking for some action?
Horror filmmaker Frank Henenlotter is one of the few directors who has been able to capture the sleaze and depravity of the lost, bygone 42nd Street/Grindhouse era. Henenlotter is of course the director of 1982s BASKET CASE, 1988s BRAIN DAMAGE, BASKET CASE’s sequels, and 2008s criminally overlooked BAD BIOLOGY. All of Henenlotter’s films put the viewer in a trance where you may want to look away but you’re afraid if you do you’re gonna miss something good. Full of body-horror and grotesque imagery, Henenlotter has been a genre favorite for decades. But perhaps what sets a Henenlotter film a part from all others is the tone and atmosphere he establishes. He manages to perfectly capture what I refer to above as the sleaze and depravity of the 42nd Street/Grindhouse culture. Even though that era was long gone by 1990, Henenlotter manages to inject that ‘feel’ into FRANKENHOOKER. All of Henenlotter’s films also contain black comedy, yet I wouldn’t categorize his films as being “horror-comedies,” with the possible exception of FRANKENHOOKER.
FRANKENHOOKER is, as you can guess, a retelling of the classical FRANKENSTEIN story … for modern times. When trying to build a creature, not all mad scientists have access to funeral homes and cemeteries. But everyone has easy access to pimps, whores, and all types of degenerates. Right?
The film stars James Lorinz as Jeffrey Franken, a brilliant but perpetually lazy guy who flunked out of a few med schools and now works a blue collar job as an engineer. Jeffrey currently lives with his mother (Louise Lasser) but is engaged to a pretty girl, Elizabeth Shelley (Patty Mullen) who just adores him. Her family’s not too crazy about Jeffrey but he loves Elizabeth to death. After a freak and fatal accident with a remote controlled lawn mower that leaves Elizabeth not only dead but completely torn apart, Jeffrey does what any genius would do: He makes plans to put her back together again and reanimate her with a lot of electricity. The only problem is there weren’t enough parts in usable condition left over from the accident to put her back together again. In fact, the only salvageable part of Elizabeth was her head, which he has safely stored in a goopy purple liquid that is keeping it fresh. But this doesn’t phase the mourning Jeffrey. He puts together a plan to “borrow” the best parts from various women so he won’t only bring his beloved back to life, but he’ll improve on her original design.
What. pray tell, is the best way to accomplish this? Let’s se. Jeffrey could go on e killing spree. No, that’d bring way too much attention to himself. How about he hires 7-8 hookers and hosts a party so he can see which parts of which girls he wants to use? Sounds reasonable. And then to “collect” those parts he could whip up a batch of “Super Crack” that after it’s smoked will blowup the hookers into easy collectable pieces. I think we have a plan!!
Nothing, and I mean nothing, here is meant to be taken seriously. This is Henenlotter having a lot of fun, and you can feel him behind the camera laughing along with us. The acting is over the top, the special f/x are definitely not up to snuff (pardon the pun) compared to his other films, and we definitely get a lot more humor here than in his other films. As mentioned above, this is the only Henenlotter film I’d categorize as a bonafide horror-comedy. All of his other flms have a very distinct duality. In BASKET CASE we get a stark contrast between the character of Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his siamese twin Belial (the former being opposed to violence and the later reveling in it). In BRAIN DAMAGE we get another dichotomy in the character of Aylmer. Aylmer has a calm, soothing, Bing Crosby-ish voice but demands his hosts to carry out unbelievable acts of violence and depravity. We don’t get any such dichotomous character in FRANKENHOOKER. Jeffrey is rather crazy right from the get-go and losing the love of his life just gives him that little push he needed to go off the deep end. This isn’t a stab at FRANKENHOOKER at all. This film shows the more playful side of Henenlotter … and I enjoyed it.
I will say that FRANKENHOOKER really dropped the ball when it comes to the special f/x. Considering BASKET CASE is a constant barrage of gooey, kick ass f/x that were brilliantly executed, FRANKENHOOKER is pretty bad. The body parts are all obviously mannequin parts and due to Jeffrey’s use of the Super Crack we get (bloodless) bodies exploding instead of seeing Jeffrey take a bow saw to the hookers. I admit it, I felt cheated and a little ripped off!! This, though, won’t take anything away from the overall fun of the film. Plus you can do what I did. My wife hates gore. So I was able to tell her that FRANKENHOOKER isn’t gory at all … and I wasn’t lying!!
This film is definitely Henenlotter’s love letter to Mary Shelley. We even get a fantastic mad scientist laboratory set up complete with a roof that pens up and a table that rises up into the sky to capture all that wonderful lightening. And all this one a working stiff’s blue collar salary!! The final reveal of the creature is well worth the wait. We get a fantastic looking creature that was beautifully brought to life and given a great personality by actress Mullen. She was quirky, bat-shit crazy, and funny as well. Because of all the hooker parts Jeffrey used to reconstruct her body, Elizabeth’s memories are all from that walk of life. Upon reanimation she goes back to NYC to walk the street and turn some tricks. But with all that unbridled electricity coursing through her new body, every time Frankenhooker kisses a guy he blows up.
Very soon after its initial release, FRANKENHOOKER achieved cult status and became a favorite midnight movie. On October 17, 2006, the film was digitally remastered and released uncut on DVD by Unearthed Films. Featured on the bottom right of the cover is actor Bill Murray’s famous quote, “If you see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER.” Another funny story comes from the MPAA. The initial release of FRANKENHOOKER was delayed because of the difficulty it had with obtaining an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA. Henenlotter notes that in a phone call to the production company’s secretary, one representative of the ratings body actually said, “Congratulations, you’re the first film rated ‘S.’” And she said, ‘S?’ For sex?” And they said, “No, ‘S’ for Shit.” Oh that whacky MPAA!!
But you can take my word that FRANKENHOOKER is not a piece of shit. It’s a classics, cult hit that will have you laughing out loud as well as shaking your head wondering how Henenlotter comes up with this stuff. This is a definite “must see”!!
Director: Frank Henenlotter (& writer)
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer