With a title like ‘Frankenhooker’, there are two possible grimy paths you might be led down. It would be unreasonable to expect anything more than a cheap exploitation film, but Frankenhooker is either going to be terrible in a funny, self-aware way, or an oblivious trainwreck. The movie, as it turns out, opts for the former and goes for shocking gross-out humour, and more or less succeeds.
After the fiancée (Patty Mullen) of nerdy gas and electric worker Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), is killed in a freak lawnmower accident (seriously), he is willing to do anything to bring her back. This includes using his apparent skills as a mad scientist to stitch together a new body for her and bring her back to life. On his mission to find ‘the right parts’, Franken picks up a handful of streetwalkers with the promise of crack, but unbenownst to them, the crack is actually super-crack that makes you explode on consumption. Why Mary Shelley didn’t include super-crack in the source material I’ll never understand.
What is remarkable about Frankenhooker is how every facet of the film is in harmony with each other to create such a believably seedy world, from the script to the goofy performances to the budget production design. The story, though obviously inspired by the Frankenstein-inspired b-movies that have come before it, contains a little more depth and moral complexity. Whilst Peter Cushing’s Dr Frankenstein has no problems straight up murdering people, Jeffrey Franken is more human, as we see him question his thoughts and attempt to justify his actions before blowing up a room full of prostitutes. He’s crazy for sure, but the film allows him to be that little more relatable. The story may be dark and absurd, but there are plenty of puns and well-crafted jokes thrown in for good measure. When Jeffrey is searching for the Frankenhooker, he comes across a street preacher who is evangelising about “the woman arrayed in purple and scarlet… Kings of the Earth have committed fornications and lived deliciously with her. They shall wail and lament when they see the smoke of her burning.” Franken says, “so you’ve seen her?” The preacher points and says, “yeah, she’s in the bar.”
Franken’s insanity is portrayed deftly by James Lorinz, looking like if Michael J. Fox played a character n Trainspotting, who even in his wildest scenes never seems like he is trying too hard. Patty Mullen reveals an equal knack for physical comedy as the deranged and unwieldy Frankenhooker. However, the real star of the film is the special effects. Always favouring the ridiculous over the realistic, the grotesque over the tasteful, the result is some of the most bizarre and memorable visual jokes set to film. There are a lot of dismembered body parts in the film, including a pile of tits that Franken keeps in his laboratory. Say what you like about Godard’s La Grande Illusion, but that movie did not have a pile of tits. The film is occasionally overshadowed by some of the more extreme special effects and gratuitous nudity, and relying on violence towards women for laughs doesn’t fly as effectively in 2017, but Frankenhooker is still a fun, creative little movie which after 27 years hasn’t lost its power to shock or make you laugh.
Dir: Frank Henenlotter
Scr: Robert “Bob” Martin, Frank Henenlotter
Cast: James Lorinz, Patty Mullen, Louise Lasser
DP: Robert M. Baldwin
Music: Joe Renzetti
Country: United States
Run time: 85 minutes
Frankenhooker is re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Arrow on 6th February