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James Lorinz as Jeffrey Franken
Patty Mullen as Elizabeth Shelley
Louise Lasser as Jeffreys Mother
Joseph Gonzalez as Zorro
John Zacherle as Weatherman
This is one weird and crazy film (well, as regular readers here may know, I rarely review anything other than weird and/or crazy films). Written and directed by Frank Henenlotter, infamous for equally weird cult films 'Basket Case' (1982) and 'Brain Damage' (1988), this quirky 1990 comedy-horror is fun and yucky at the same time.
The story starts with a nice idyllic outdoor party scene in which we learn that Jeffrey and Elizabeth are a young couple in love and that the festivities are in honour of Elizabeth's dad's birthday. Dad blows out the candles on his cake and Elizabeth presents him with a surprise gift, a flashy new remote-controlled lawnmower. However, tragedy quickly ensues: Elizabeth makes the mistake of standing in front of the lawnmower with her back to it in order to demonstrate the remote control, the lawnmower lurches forward and, well, Elizabeth ends up in bits strewn all over the family lawn.
Heartbroken Jeffrey, who we discover is a medical school drop-out who has an improvised home laboratory and conducts some pretty strange experiments, takes to spending all his time in there, working on a highly detailed life-sized sketch of all of the muscles, organs and nerves of the human female body, with a photo of Elizabeth's face pasted to the top of it. We soon learn that some parts of Elizabeth's body had never been found after the incident, mystifying the police and all concerned. We quickly learn why: Jeffrey had sneakily snatched them (including her head) and is keeping them in a vat of preservative.
His plan is to resurrect her by finding her a new body and transplanting her head and other various bits of her he was able to retrieve. But how to find a suitable body? He decides to go to the bad part of town and invite a bunch of prostitutes to a private party, get them all doped up and unconscious with some knockout drugs, and choose the best-looking body of the lot. So he finds a willing group of hookers, takes them home and they party hearty.
Unfortunately, Jeffrey's knockout drug doesn't have the desired effect - rather than putting them to sleep, it causes every one of the girls to explode. With a room full of assorted body parts everywhere, he freaks out, sobbing with remorse - but finally, steeling himself, he sets to work picking out the most undamaged parts from different girls, stitching them all together into a new body, placing Elizabeth's head on top. How's all that going to turn out?
I quite enjoyed this goofy film which was, in its own oddball way, a fun take on the classic Frankenstein story. After Jeffrey Franken (Franken, geddit, as in Frankenstein) stitches Elizabeth together, his method of reanimating her is to offer her up on a pulley to a huge electrical storm raging outside, just as depicted in the original 1931 'Frankenstein' movie - sparks and electrical arcs everywhere, and everything going 'bzzzt, bzzzt'. When Elizabeth gets off of the mechanism and begins to try to walk, we see that she's wearing huge clomping platform shoes much like the original Frankenstein movie monster's boots, and when spoken to, she turns her head and growls out of the corner of her mouth in response like the original movie monster. I really liked how they paid such homage to that great classic film.
Jeffrey comes across well as yer typical modern-day idea of a young nerdy mad scientist, playing the part with relish and it looked like the actor had a lot of fun playing him. He has quite a few unusual quirks, such as sticking a power drill into his head as a way of coping with stress, and he has a pet, if you can call it that, one-eyed brain that he keeps in an aquarium.
I also enjoyed the actress playing Elizabeth, both in her sweet and wholesome persona at the beginning of the movie, and the monster she gets turned into - as the monster, she really is hilarious and I had quite a few laugh-out-loud moments.
The other main actors are good too, ranging from Louise Lasser (an ex-wife of Woody Allen and a great comedy actress popular in the 60s and 70s, such as her starring role in a crazy 70s TV series that was a send-up of soap operas, called 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman') as Jeffrey's mother, to Joseph Gonzales as evil pimp 'Zorro', to a surprise short cameo from a childhood hero of mine, Zacherley (John Zakerle), who, made up as a ghoul, used to be the host of a weekly horror movie show I watched avidly when I was a small child living in Los Angeles. In this movie, he was in his customary ghoul get-up playing a TV weatherman, of all things, and it was fun seeing him again. The hookers are also all pretty funny (before they explode).
This is obviously not a big-budget or blockbuster type of film, more an indy sort of look and feel, so don't expect impressive special effects or great cinematography. But the camerawork is quite punchy, and the special effects are imaginative, if not high budget - in fact there is a sequence later on where the other hookers' body parts all merge themselves together spontaneously into various really gruesome looking monstrosities and come to life, and these are effective enough to look disturbingly grisly and nightmarish. The directorial style is lively and it's a fast-paced movie.
Although made to look somewhat cheesy, it's also very tongue-in-cheek, doesn't take itself seriously, and is a bit dark in a black comedy sense. Despite being pretty gruesome in parts, it's not very bloody, even when the hookers explode, so it won't satisfy the most blood-thirsty horror fans, but is more a crazy nerdy comedy with a horror theme.
Highly recommended as one of those mad late-night movies for kicking back and curling up with a bowl of popcorn and some bevvies.
Also on Ciao as thereddragon.
Sequels notwithstanding, out of Frank Henenlotter's CV, Frankenhooker is probably his least known work, never quite earning the cult status that Brain Damage or Basket Case attained, and many fans believing it to be rather tame in comparison to the other two. While it is, to be perfectly honest there aren't many movies where that statement doesn't apply, and Frankenhooker isn't exactly a straight-forward horror movie or a kid-friendly venture by any means.
The movie is, as not only the title, but character names like Jeffrey Franken and Elizabeth Shelley would indicate, a spoof on the story of Frankenstein, or to be more specific Bride of Frankenstein, with the Henenlotter twist.
Our hero of the film is a young electrician who could have been a doctor named Jeffrey Franken(James Lorinz - Robocop 3). Jeffrey is rather antisocial, and spends most of his time in his bedroom/lab or the garage/lab, working on all sorts of bizarre projects that involve bringing things to life.
His biology experiments aren't the end of his genius, and at his fiancee Elizabeth(Patty Mullen - Doom Asylum)'s father's birthday, she reveals that her gift to her father, an electric lawnmower, was customised by Jeffrey to work via remote control, which she decides to demonstrate, but doing so before she checks where the lawnmower is, and soon parts of Elizabeth can be found all over the garden.
Jeffrey manages to get a few body parts, most notably her head, and places them in a tank of his estrogen based blood fluid, which will preserve her until he can find body parts to complete her. There is going to be a storm in 2 days, and Jeffrey realises that this will be his only chance to get enough electricity to spark his creation to life. Figuring that the best place to get voluptuous body parts is hookers, he meets a local pimp named Zorro(Joseph Gonzalez - Death Wish 3) who agrees to give him around 6 of his best girls, and he chooses which one he gets to 'work with'.
To make their deaths more clean and less stressful, Jeffrey, upon noticing all hookers are crack addicts, creates Supercrack, crack that causes anyone who smokes it to explode. When the girls find this in his bag, they go crazy, and things turn into a crack smoking orgy, shortly before a fireworks display featuring hookers blowing up instead of rockets. Gathering their body parts, Jeffrey sets off for home, where he plans to rebuild Elizabeth out of hooker body parts.
Once the creature is created, Jeffrey realises something has went a little wrong, and instead of having the mind of Elizabeth, this thing instead talks using the last words of the hookers, and KOs him before heading back to her usual stomping grounds.
When he comes to, Jeffrey has to go and find his creation, who has a lethal electric kiss and is in some dire need of repairs. However, Zorro isn't exactly pleased about all his girls exploding, so he is after Jeffrey as well. What will this young genius do?
While the plot of Frankenhooker may not be quite as bizarre of offensive as Henenlotter's other works, it still has it's fair share of his almost surreal humour, like Jeffrey using some form of power-drill acupuncture to clear his head, exploding hookers(which is about 4 times as hilarious as it sounds), Frankenhooker herself and my personal favourite, completely pointless, scene, where Jeffrey stops and asks a Swedish guy if he has seen Elizabeth in Times Square.
The film isn't as gory as your typical Henenlotter affair either, although it does feature more nudity, as well as having some really bizarre creatures emerge from Jeffrey's lab. It contains a few nice nods to Basket Case, including Beverley Bonner having a cameo as Casey, campaigning for Hooker rights on TV(she played a hooker in the first movie) and Henenlotter's love for having all hell break loose in Times Square.
I mean there are lapses in logic in the plot, but to be honest, the film isn't meant to be taken very seriously. While you will often find this in the horror section of DVD stores, it's really more of a comedy rooted in horror, much like the Basket Case sequels, which were shot at the same time as this movie. It doesn't repulse or scare like Henenlotter's other non-sequel movies, and instead is really only shocking in terms of the humour he pulls out, and the fact that he can make hookers who blow up hilarious.
Acting in the movie isn't exactly great, but I wouldn't say it's bad either. It features that bizarre form of acting that only seems to exist in low budget movies, where people aren't bad in their roles...they just are a little too wet behind the ears. It's also pretty clear everyone is from somewhere around New York, just from the accents. Lorinz makes a likeable enough star, and in general I can't really complain much about the acting. I wouldn't tell anyone the film has good acting, but at the end of the day, I don't think anyone would expect any in a film called Frankenhooker.
Music in the film basically revolves around this really bizarre song that plays on the radio the hookers listen to, and later appears as Frankenhooker's theme. I honestly don't know how to describe this song, other than it actually fits the kind of off-the-wall nature of the film pretty well, capturing a little comedy.
Special effects in the film are quite decent actually, Henenlotter had come a long way from kicking rubber models accross the screen in Basket Case by this point, and while it's hardly blockbuster stuff, Frankenhooker, as well as the other random creatures that see creation in Jeffrey's lab, are all fairly well realised, with no cheap laughs being gained from bad effects.
Frankenhooker really seems to resemble a more successful attempt at the type of movie Henenlotter was aiming for in Basket Case 2 and The Progeny, than it does the original Basket Case or Brain Damage. Instead of being a horror flick with some rather twisted humour on the go, it's a comedy flick, just one with rather twisted-horror based humour on the go. While I wouldn't regard it as a classic, as I do some of Henenlotter's movies, I certainly rank it above both Basket Case sequels, and find it an entertaining, and at times hilariously twisted movie, that I think all fans of the man should check out.
A medical school dropout loses his fiance in a tragic lawnmower incident, and decides to bring her back. Unfortunately, he was only able to save her head, so he concocts a plan to lure prostitutes into a hotel room so he can get parts to reconstruct his girlfriend.