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Friday 3 February 2023

Burl reviews Frankenhooker! (1990)


Ha ha, wanna date? No, just kidding, it’s Burl here to review another movie for you, and if you ever had “Wanna date?” shouted at you by a VHS box, you’ll know which one it is! Now, here’s an interesting case: as of the other night, I’ve now seen this movie twice, and both times it was in the theatre! The first time was a midnight show in Montreal the summer it came out, which as you can imagine was a lot of fun, and then it was playing here in my town on a double bill with its soul mate, Re-Animator! Ha ha, this is the sort of picture it’s unlikely to have even seen once on the big screen if you don’t live somewhere like New York, and since I don’t, I call that an accomplishment! The movie I’m talking about is Frank Henenlotter’s third picture as a director, Frankenhooker!

Henenlotter is a funny case: studied from a distance he seems an inevitable product of New York City, and in particular of Times Square before they tidied it up! He’s made a little industry out of exploring the psychopathologies of young New Yawk men who find themselves in tragic and monster-related situations, and there’s a grimy collegiality to his movies that usually leavens the less-pleasant aspects of his stories! Basket Case, the first and grimiest of his movies, doesn’t always manage this of course, but there’s still an underlying jollity to it, and the monster certainly has his rough-hewn charms!

Frankenhooker is a picture that could have gone wrong, but Henenlotter made several deft choices along the way! As much as I appreciate well-done gore, I think he was correct to keep this movie on the dry and more cartoonish side – instead of guts and blood, the hookers in this movie explode in sparks and what appear to be mannequin parts! It doesn’t quite go the “green streamers” way of Evil Dead II, but almost! (And, like that movie, it was forced to go the unrated route anyway!)

The story has Jeffrey Franken, a coverall-wearing amateur mad scientist played by James Lorinz from Street Trash and Last Exit to Brooklyn, suffer a terrible bereavement in the opening moments of the picture: his fiancĂ©e Elizabeth, played by Patty Mullen from Doom Asylum and nothing else, is run over by a remote control lawnmower! Well, Jeffrey manages to save her head, and, after he has an impassioned chat with his mother, played in a cameo appearance by Louise Lasser from Bananas and Crimewave (the Raimi one), we discover that he’s keeping the noggin in a freezer in his garage laboratory! He’s got to find some replacement body parts if he’s going to reassemble his lady love, so of course his next course of action is to head across the bridge to Times Square and find some hookers to explode with his lab-created super-crack!

It’s when Jeffrey gets to New York that the picture really comes to life, ha ha! He meets some lively whores and a fearsome bemuscled pimp named Zorro, and also encounters a portly bartender named Spike played by the mighty Shirley Stoler from Klute and Splitz and Three O’Clock High and Grumpier Old Men! And after Jeffrey has exploded a roomful of working girls (accidentally, because he’s had a change of heart and decided not to go through with it after all), he collects their bits in plastic bags and constructs a new body for Elizabeth! But when she’s brought to life by lightning, she’s no longer Elizabeth, but rather a sort of hooker automaton, and she immediately shambles back to Times Square to ply her ancient trade!


By the end of the picture Zorro has become involved, and has suffered a nasty encounter with a freezer-full of mutated bits – poetic justice for his cruel practice of addicting his ladies to mind drugs! Jeffrey himself comes to the sticky but apposite conclusion befitting one who would pervert science and meddle with nature and reconstruct his lawn-mown girlfriend without her consent! Ha ha!

The picture is a bit ramshackle, but it’s amusing! There are no affrights to speak of, but that’s not the goal! Nor is it a gross-out picture, though it has its moments, as any movie featuring a cooler full of disembodied breasts must! It’s a real artifact at this point in history, which gives it some additional interest; and the special effects are janky but appropriate and the performances unexpectedly strong! I particularly liked Mullen’s twisty-mouthed work as the jigsaw zombie! Ha ha, it’s kind of a shame she didn’t stay in the acting game, because I thought she was really solid! Anyway, the whole movie has a likeable backyard quality that mostly overwhelms the conceptually unsavory aspects, and so I give Frankenhooker two and a half Visible Women!