In 1990’s FRANKENHOOKER medical school dropout, inventor, mechanic and resident of New Jersey Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) loses his fiancé Elizabeth Shelley (former Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen) in traumatic fashion after one of his inventions – a remote controlled lawnmower – runs amok at a barbecue and turns her into a “tossed human salad”.
The distraught Franken keeps her severed head in a freezer in his bedroom and plans to resurrect her. However first he must construct a new body.
Now where could he find a fresh and plentiful supply of female body parts?
Franken embarks on a mission to source components from New York’s hooker population, while avoiding the attentions of their pimps, his mother, and bypassing pesky ethical difficulties by deactivating the moral centres of his own brain with a cordless drill.
Pulp auteur Frank Henenlotter comes out of the East Coast school of American exploitation films, along with his producer James Glickenhaus (director of THE EXTERMINATOR). Neither are as well known as the mini studio/distributor Troma, and although Henenlotter’s films sound on the surface like Troma fare, for me they are vastly superior. I’ve never understood Troma’s appeal. Lloyd Kaufman talks a great talk, but after the outrageous film titles, salacious taglines, and gaudy poster art are done with the films seem like an afterthought. Most of Troma’s output seems to consist of deliberate attempts to manufacture cult appeal.
When it comes to cult movies, I am a firm believer in nature and not nurture. True gutter art is born from a mix of talent, luck, innovation, a sprinkle of fairy dust, but most of all from deep all consuming love of movies.
Frank Henenlotter is the real deal, despite the possession of talent and wit, his love for grind-house cinema and the now bygone 70s and 80s heyday of New York’s 42nd Street keeps him firmly mired in the sluice-water flowing into the drains of the big rotten apple. Henenlotter is a more of a cult figure than Kaufman precisely because he is more of an artist than a showman. And also perhaps too much of a nice guy to possess the killer instinct of a successful businessman.
Henenlotter’s film output is not prodigious, it consists of three BASKET CASE films, the psychedelic horror comedy BRAIN DAMAGE (re-release this please), his recent BAD BIOLOGY, and FRANKENHOOKER. Henenlotter’s films are full of outrageous gore, weird mutants, and bizarre sexual shenanigans but they also have a great sense of fun, and an underlying underdog/outsider spirit that puts them closer to a filmmaker like John Waters than a director of the crueller genre films that have become popular since the release of SAW and HOSTEL.
FRANKENHOOKER is not one of Henenlotter’s most visceral movies, it’s relatively tame in the gore department, but oh boy does it compensate in other areas. There is of course a fairly relentless parade of female nudity – although mostly topless only and given the riotous context fairly non-titillating (unless you get wood for CARRY ON movies). The special effects are imaginative but often hilariously shonky, although the actual FRANKENHOOKER makeup applied to Mullen and a decapitation gag are genuinely impressive. FX artist Gabe Bartalos has gone on to work with fine artist Matthew Barney on his CREMASTER films.
But the chief appeal of the movie is its humour, and the performances of Lorinz and Mullen. While I guess it is possible that exploding prostitutes will not be naturally hilarious to every viewer, you either find the title FRANKENHOOKER funny or you don’t. If you don’t, then this probably is not a film for you.
Lorinz had previously appeared in a film stealing cameo in Jim Muro’s amazingly sleazy comedy STREET TRASH, given his first (of sadly few) leading role he doesn’t so much seize the opportunity as sneer at it whilst delivering a disparaging Joy-see smart arse quip. This is a part that could have been easily played as some kind of Matthew Broderick cutesy nerdy role. Lorinz however, genuinely doesn’t seem to give a fuck, delivering every line tongue-in-cheek, whilst oozing punk rock attitude. Lorinz had small parts in LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN and Ferrara’s KING OF NEW YORK but I honestly don’t know how he didn’t end up in THE SOPRANOS.
As Franken’s doomed girlfriend – and later resurrected Robo-ho – Mullen is terrific. Under inventive prosthetics that are part Universal, part MUNSTERS and part va-va-wow, Mullen proves a deft physical comedian, stomping through Times Square whilst shrieking “wanna date” at (mostly) terrified onlookers. Of course she does eventually find a willing punter with, um, specialised tastes. Despite the fact he is mostly bald, the results are hair raising. This is one of only two IMDB credits for Mullen which is another genuine shame.
I’m not going to mince my words, I genuinely consider FRANKENHOOKER to be a classic piece of trash art that ought to be on show in the Guggenheim.
Review originally published on http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk RIP
Frankenhooker was recently released on a fine UK blu ray by Arrow with tasty extras.