Director Frank Henenlotter is a bit of an acquired taste. His films, including the Basket Case trilogy and Brain Damage, mix horror, comedy and low-budget special effects with mixed results, and the thing they have most in common is their offbeat tone. 1990’s Frankenhooker isn’t his best known film, but it deserves to be thanks to a funny script, some ridiculous effects pieces and a perfectly pitched and wonderfully off kilter lead performance.
Jeffrey Franken is a bright young man with an assured future and a thick Jersey accent, but when his girlfriend Elizabeth Shelley is killed in a freak lawnmower accident he loses it all. Well, he keeps the accent.
He also keeps Elizabeth’s head.
“The vivacious young girl was instantly reduced to a tossed human salad. A salad that police are still trying to gather up. A salad that was once named Elizabeth.”
Jeffrey (James Lorinz) spirals into despair, but he does so with a plan. He has Elizabeth’s (Patty Mullen) head in a bubbly liquid to keep it viable and only pulls it out for special occasions like dinner. His problem is where to find suitable body parts to bring her fully back to life even better than she was before. See, she was a bit heavy down below…
Using a life size map of the human body with a photo of Elizabeth’s head as the head, he begins to map out the various parts he’ll need, both fleshy and electrical. The question remains though, where to get the parts? So he does what anyone seeking clarity and inspiration would do.
He drills a hole into his head.
And bingo! A whore-shaped light bulb turns on and he heads across the bridge into New York City to scope out some street-walkers. A quick deal with a steroid-fueled pimp named Zorro later, and he has a hotel room party setup with a dozen or so prostitutes ready to be measured, calibrated and evaluated. The plan is simple. He’ll offer up some super crack of his own design, and it will be their choice to smoke. If they just say no they’ll walk out of there alive. If they inhale they explode. He’s no murderer!
Parts acquired he heads home and builds Elizabeth 2.0 to some very precise specifications, raises her up on a platform during an electrical storm… and succeeds in creating a monster in a halter top who wanders Manhattan asking guys if they “wanna date?”
This is a fun movie, period. It’s a b-movie that knows exactly where it stands and never takes itself too seriously. The narrative does a good job of turning Mary Shelly’s classic tale of a mad doctor and his monstrous creation into a whore-ific comedy about a failed electrician with a brain in a bowl and more than a few screws loose of his own. Did I mention it’s funny? The super crack/exploding hooker scene in particular is a feast of perfectly edited explosions, boobs and jokes. Not necessarily in that order. Lorinz isn’t necessarily that good of an actor, but the guy knows how to deliver a line like nobody’s business.
A low budget can often be the death knell to a film reliant on effects work, but Henenlotter gets a lot of bang for his buck here. The body parts have an undeniably fake look about about them, and that’s part of the film’s appeal, but the scenes where people explode in a shower of sparks and limbs look pretty damn sweet. This isn’t a gore flick, but there’s plenty of fun effects work visible onscreen.
The movie suffers a slowdown in pacing and zaniness in the second act, but it picks up again nicely towards the end. The finale even ups the ante on body part shenanigans with a frenzied scene that seems inspired at least a little bit by Brian Yuzna’s malformed and gooey Society from the year before. It’s a high note of manic activity, gags and laughs, and it sets things up nicely for The Bride of Frankenhooker we unfortunately never got. Is twenty two years too long to wait for a sequel? Hopefully not…
Arrow Video’s Blu-ray features a new high definition transfer in 1080p that looks quite good for a low budget romp like this. The colors, purple included, are bright and vibrant throughout, and the picture is sharp throughout. The disc also includes a commentary track featuring director Frank Henenlotter and star James Lorinz.
The additional special features include:
- Your Date’s On a Plate: The Making of Frankenhooker – Henenlotter and others discuss the film’s creation, filming and the sound of walking on used condoms and crack vials [39:22]
- Exclusive Tour of the Gabe Bartalos Effects Lab – Bartalos walks though his workshop showing off effects like zombie horses, human thighs from Bjork videos, torsos, heads and more [19:12]
- Frank Henenlotter Trailer Reel – [4:12]
- A Salad That Was Once Named Elizabeth: Patty Mullen Remembers Frankenhooker – Mullen, who looks even better now than she did twenty years ago, talks about the fun she had on set and the challenges of the role [8:48]
- A Stitch in Time: The Make-Up Effects of Frankenhooker – Bartalos talks about the difference between creating effects for fun characters and for pure gore [20:55]
- Turning Tricks: Jennifer Defora Remembers Frankenhooker – Defora discusses the challenge of finding new ways to play hookers, the joy of working with Henenlotter and the absolute pain of working with a diva like Lorinz, and hanging with the Frankensluts [19:32]
I was sent a disc-only review copy of Frankenhooker, so I can’ t speak to the physical extras included in the release other than to list them. They include:
- a reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphries
- a double-sided fold-out artwork poster
- an exclusive collectors’ booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Calum Waddell
Frankenhooker is Henenlotter’s most entertaining movie and features the best scene of his career. The leads are in on the fun, the effects are creative and inspired, and the dialogue is occasionally funny as hell. Fans of the director, b-movies, and cheap but legitimate laughs will not be disappointed.
Buy Frankenhooker on region-free Blu-ray from AmazonUK