Frankenhooker (1990)

“Wanna date? Going out? Looking for some action?

Frankenhooker posterHorror 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?

Frankenhooker01The 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.

Frankenhooker06What. 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.

Don't ask!!
Don’t ask!!

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!!

Don't ask about this one either!!
Don’t ask about this one either!!

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.

I'm gonna skip any "losing your head" jokes!!
I’m gonna skip any “losing your head” jokes!!

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”!!

My Summary:

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

Work, work, work!!
Work, work, work!!

Henenlotter’s Long Awaited Basket Case 3: The Progeny Finally Coming to DVD!!

Do you have those kinda friends, those really good, close friends, that you may not talk to all that often and whom you see even less? But even though you don’t see or hear from them often you consider them your best friends? Why? Because you have a history with that person — some great shared memories and times that have over the decades forged a bond that can withstand the tests of distance and time. Well this is the category I put filmmaker Frank Henenlotter in. The last film I saw from him was BAD BIOLOGY in 2008 (my review), yet I have such a history with this man’s films that I consider him one of the genre’s greatest filmmakers and one of my personal favorites (easily in the top 5).

Henenlotter is the director of the BASKET CASE trilogy (and possibly the future director of part 4; see my article here), FRANKENHOOKER, BRAIN DAMAGE, and the above mentioned BAD BIOLOGY. Henenlotter’s have a very distinct style to them. They are gritty, very gory, have great dialogue, have a lot of gore in them, are throwbacks to the good old Grindhouse-style of filmmaking, and did I mention that they’re gory as hell?? BASKET CASE parts one and two have been available on DVD for a while now, but BASKET CASE 3: THE PROGENY has until now been stuck on VHS & Laserdisc hell. But as reports, BASKET CASE 3 will be hitting DVD on October 9th, 2012 courtesy of Synapse Films.

Even SHE has that ‘new-mother’ glow!!

BASKET CASE 3 is directed by Frank Henenlotter and written by Henenlotter and Robert Martin and stars Kevin Van Hentenryck, Annie Ross, and Gil Roper. Here’s the plot crunch:

The saga of Times Square Freak Twins Duane and Belail Bradley takes its most bizarre twist yet. It all starts innocently enough when the Bradley boys join kindly doctor Granny Ruth and her family of unique individuals for a road trip through the deep South.. The occasion – Belail’s about to become a proud monster father – and no basket is big enough to hold this ungodly brood! But when a pair of warped sheriffs deputies kidnap Belai’s babies Granny Ruth and the family strike back. Belial single handedly decimates the local police station with crazed, Terminator like fury – and that’s just the beginning. Threatened with the loss of the newest additions to their family, Granny Ruth and the others concoct a delicious revenge against their enemies, climaxing in Belial’s futuristic one-on-one with the town Sheriff.

filmmaker Frank Henenlotter. This is one of the greats, people!!!

The BASKET CASE 3 DVD doesn’t include too many special features, but does include the original theatrical trailer. Check out the press release:

He’s back. He’s bad. And he’s a dad!

Belial, everyone’s favorite beast-in-a-basket, is back in BASKET CASE 3: THE PROGENY, the sensational third film in Frank Henenlotter’s wildly macabre horror series. After being separated again from his conjoined twin brother Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck),

Belial finds out he’s going to be a deformed daddy! Mrs. Belial (“Eve,” played by Denise Coop) delivers a litter of bouncing baby monsters, but the blessed event turns into a nightmarish ordeal when the police kidnap the little critters. They should know it’snot safe to anger Belial! Attacking the cops in a climactic, gory rampage, everyone’s favorite mutant mauler stops at nothing to get his newborns back!

If you’re a little younger and have no idea who Frank Henenlotter is and have never heard of the BASKET CASE trilogy, then man am I jealous!! You can actually experience it fresh for the first time, and for that I envy you. Do yourself a favor and get the trilogy, invite some friends over, and have a blast being introduced to one of the genre’s best directors!! You’ll quickly go out and buy FRANKENHOOKER, BRAIN DAMAGE, and BAD BIOLOGY soon after.

Have a good time!! BASKET CASE 3: THE PROGENY is hitting DVD on October 9, 2012.

Stay Bloody!!!

Frank Henenlotter to be Honored in NYC November 4-6

Anthology Film Archives is honoring and celebrating the career of one of the genre’s best, Frank Henenlotter in New York City this November 4-6.  They are presenting a retrospective of some of his and the genre’s best horror films, BASKET CASE 1 & 2, BRAIN DAMAGE, and FRANKENHOOKER.  Why the hell do I live in Austin, TX??  I would absolutely love to be able to see these these classics of the grindhouse era on the big screen.

What could be better?  Glad you asked.  The man himself will be in attendance for all the screenings.  That’s right; you can ask Henenlotter in person what Alymer was supposed to be (you know what I’m talking about).  Check out the Anthology Film Archives website for more details and for the schedule of the screenings.  Here’s from the press release:

Anthology is thrilled to unleash a wild and bloody batch of Frank Henenlotter’s classic films, all uncut, uncensored, and completely unhinged. Henenlotter is one of those mythic directors that people immersed in exploitation and horror culture absolutely worship. His knowledge of genre and classic films is scholarly, he’s been one of the primary behind-the-scenes brains at Something Weird Video since their breakout, and his films are both celebrations of American exploitation cinema and legitimate extensions of it. It’s a tough line to toe indeed, but being an obsessive 42nd St. moviegoer from the time he was a teen was the perfect classroom for Henenlotter – he endlessly soaked up celluloid scum until he had no choice but to make his own vile offering to the cruel gods of ‘the Deuce’ in the form of his first feature film, Basket Case.

“I always felt that I made exploitation films,” Henenlotter said. “Exploitation films have an attitude more than anything – an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on, whether it’s sex or drugs or rock and roll. They’re what I grew up on.”

To Be Screened
1988, 84 minutes, 35mm-to-video
Considered by many hardcore Henenlotter fans to be his finest, Brain Damage is a wild, yet cohesive patchwork of addiction-fueled mania, set in the disgusting glory of late-80s NYC. Brian meets Aylmer, a mysterious, ancient, snake-like (ok, phallic) parasitic creature that lives off of brain juice, which it consumes by poking a fang into the host’s spine. The reward (or bait) that Aylmer offers for his meals is an overpowering color-soaked mind-trip that proves to be quite addictive. Gory, goopy, and hilarious, Brain Damage is also somehow personal and touching. It’s perhaps the best example of Henenlotter’s extraordinary ability to make us sympathize with characters who are insurmountably separated from society by deformity and dementia. Featuring spectacularly funny (and uncredited) voice work from none other than John Zacharley! Drastically cut in its original theatrical release, Brain Damage will be theatrically screened here totally uncut for the first time.
Friday, November 4 at 7:00 and Sunday, November 6 at 4:30

1990, 85 minutes, 35mm
Easily Henenlotter’s most comedic film, Frankenhooker still packs a wallop of 42nd St. sleaze, coated in bright purple slime. It’s the weird tale of Jeffery Franken (played by the hilarious James Lorinz of Street Trash andPunch The Clock), a med school drop out who tragically loses his bride-to-be in a remote-control lawnmower accident. His love for her runs so deep, however, that he devises a way to get her back – and with a better body this time. Traveling from suburban New Jersey into Manhattan to find specimens for his fiancée’s reanimation, he crosses paths with tough guy pimp Zorro, and the downward spiral of fun and freakiness goes full speed from there on out. It’s Henenlotter’s twist on Bride of Frankenstein, and his version has a lot more prostitutes than James Whale’s. Not to mention “Supercrack”…
Friday, November 4 at 9:30 and Saturday, November 5 at 9:30

1982, 91 minutes, 35mm-to-video
The cult classic that started it all, painstakingly restored this year to its intended specifications and now completely remastered. Duane Bradley has a relationship with his twin brother that most people would consider odd – after all, Duane was born with his brother Belial growing out of his right ribcage. Yes, it’s disgusting – that’s what their father thought too, so he hired some unscrupulous doctors to sever the boys’ ties. Henenlotter’s debut is the most bizarre tale of brotherly love ever committed to film, and a brilliant, low-budget time capsule of Times Square and NYC in all its early-80s scum and glory – seeing the streets as they were then is worth the price of admission alone. Due to painfully scarce prints, Basket Case hasn’t been screened theatrically (possibly at all) since its 80s stint as a real-deal NYC Midnight Movie. We won’t tell you what’s in the basket though…you’ll have to see for yourself.
Saturday, November 5 at 4:45 and Sunday, November 6 at 6:30

1990, 90 minutes, 35mm-to-video
Sequels can be tricky business. Duplicating the original film’s storyline almost never works, but departing from its style isn’t a solution either. Henenlotter pulls off the impossible here with a wildly original follow up that maintains the first film’s strong characters. Kevin Van Hentenryck returns as Duane Bradley, still toting around his big ol’ basket. This time he escapes the confines of the concrete jungle for a nice relaxing stay with Granny Ruth, perfectly played by legendary jazz vocalist Annie Ross, of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Granny Ruth has a soft spot for nature’s special ones, and she knows that other folks don’t share her point of view. So she’s worked hard to secretly operate a safe haven for freaks – lots of freaks – and lovingly takes Duane and Belial under her wing. But, as outsiders get wind of who might be hiding out at Granny Ruth’s, the boys’ sibling rivalry kicks into high gear again and the real freakshow begins.
Saturday, November 5 at 7:00 and Sunday, November 6 at 8:30

Directions: Anthology is at 32 Second Ave. at 2nd St. Subway: F to 2nd Ave; 6 to Bleecker. Tickets: $9 general; $8 Essential Cinema (free for members), $7 for students, seniors, & children (12 & under); $6 AFA members.

If you’re in the area, don’t miss this opportunity to catch these classics of grindhouse cinema on the big screen and to meet Frank Henenlotter himself.  Who knows; maybe this will spark Henenlotter to make BASKET CASE 4!!

Stay Bloody!!!

Indie horror filmmaker extraordinaire, Frank Henenlotter