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Frankenhooker (1990)

Director: Frank Henenlotter
Starring: James Lorinz, Patty Mullen, Louise Lasser, Joseph Gonzalez
Unrated Running time: 85 minutes
Released by Unearthed Films

God bless Frank Henenlotter. Ever since his 1982 masterpiece Basket Case wowed midnight movie audiences the world over, it has remained abundantly clear that the man's brain is just not wired the same way your's or mine is. And that is a good thing. Henenlotter has only managed to produce a handful of films in a career spanning thirty years, all of them centering around normal schmoes who happen to be dealing with monsters that threaten to ruin their lives. When I say "monsters" I don't mean inner demons or unresolved emotional issues, I mean honest-to-God monsters. The kind that sneak out at night to suck brain juices, or break into apartments so that they can ravish nude women who made the mistake of getting mixed up with Henenlotter's dysfunctional heroes. These stories are all told with the director's off-color sense of humid and a gleeful disregard for anything resembling good taste. Many filmmakers have tried to capture the same deliriously trashy vibe that his films exude, but they usually try too hard and miss their mark. For Henenlotter, this stuff comes naturally.

Frankenhooker tells the story of a full-time public utility worker and part-time mad scientist named Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) who loses his fiancee in a freak remote-controlled lawn mower accident. Emotionally devastated, Jeffrey steals his dismembered bride-to-be's head and stashes it in the freezer. Death is a minor annoyance for Jeffrey, as he has been experimenting with re-animation in his New Jersey garage/laboratory. Not only is he going to bring his fiancee back to life, he's going to make her even better. With too few usable parts at his disposal, Jeffrey goes across the river to scope out the hooker's making their rounds in a seedy part of town. There he meets Zorro the Pimp (Joseph Gonzalez) who introduces Jeffrey to something that hookers like even more than money -- crack.

James Lorinz inspects the merchandise

Jeffrey returns to New Jersey and begins work on his grand plan. He whips up a batch of imitation crack which has the unfortunate side effect of causing the smoker to explode, and tries to decide just what features does he want in his perfect woman. Unable to decide, Jeffrey contacts Zorro and arranges to see all of his best girls so that Jeffrey can pick out the best specimens. Zorro agrees - but things go terribly wrong when the restless hookers find Jeffrey's SuperCrack and decide to throw an impromptu party. Jeffrey is powerless to stop the headstrong streetwalkers, and in one of the greatest scenes in film history, the roomful of hookers explode. Jeffrey gathers up the piecs and scurries off to his lab to complete his work.

Back in the lab, now teeming with disembodied boobs, legs, arms, and various other body parts floating in vats filled with purple goo, Jeffrey painstakingly assembles his vision of the perfect woman. Using the power of electricity to give life to his creation, Jeffrey is successful: Elizabeth has been reborn. With a few problems, it seems - because of the preponderance of prostitute parts used, Elizabeth has the mind of an aggressive lady of the night. Elizabeth knocks Jeffrey out and escapes.

Henenlotter found his spiritual stepson in special effects whiz Gabe Bartolos. Bartolos's designs straddle the line between the cartoonish and the disturbing, the perfect compliment to Henenlotter's warped sensibilities. James Lorinz (Street Trash) is perfectly cast as the wisecracking Jeffrey, delivering a near constant stream of one-liners in a hilariously deadpan style. And let's not forget about the titular (hehe, sorry) character played by former Penthouse Pet of the Year Patty Mullen. Mullen is drop dead gorgeous even when wearing corpsepaint and latex scars - not to mention the fact that she plays the lumbering zombie 'ho with impressive comic skill. Why Lorinz and Mullen never went on to bigger things is a mystery - let's just be thankful that Frankenhooker exists as a testament to both of their underappreciated talents.

The Unearthed Films presentation of Frankenhooker is terrific - the image and sound quality are about is good as its going to get, much appreciated after an extended stay in out-of-print limbo. Extras include a short interview with Patty Mullen, as well as a lengthier interview with Jennifer Delora ( the gum smacking redhead who says "I don't feel so good"). Henelotter and Bartalos provide a fun commentary where they divulge stories and anecdotes about the film's production. The best extra, however, is the Gabe Bartalos-filmed documentary on the film's special effects. Lots of never before seen footage of the behind the scenes creature work interwoven with Bartalos's visit to the Moonlight Bunnyranch. It's a fun tribute to a film of which Bartolos obviously has many fond memories, and is worth the price of the disc alone.

What can I say? It's cheap, trashy, and more fun than a million Final Destinations. You either get it or you don't. For those who appreciate low rent thrills and and have a twisted sense of humor,
Frankenhooker is essential. 

1 comment:

  1. I still love this frickin movie! The talking VHS box was sweet.