1990 – USA
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Starring: James Lorinz, Joanna Ritchie, Patty Mullen
Words: Oliver Innocent
By the time Frankenhooker was released in 1990, director Frank Henenlotter was already something of an exploitation legend, having unleashed the iconic (not to mention truly demented) trash classic Basket Case and it’s even weirder sequel on unsuspecting genre fans. Although undeniably nasty, frequently crude and oftentimes mind-numbingly bizarre, they were offset by a fantastic streak of black humour which meant that, no matter how deep they loitered in the gutter, they remained surprisingly endearing. Frankenhooker saw this black comedy come to the fore while the nastier elements took a step back. More easily digestible than Henenlotter’s previous movies but at the same time in no way diluted (merely toned down), this “terrifying tale of sluts and bolts” as it’s poster so eloquently proclaims could very well be Henenlotter’s masterpiece. It’s certainly a contender for one of the best comedy horror films of the ‘nineties, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Braindead and Bride of Re-Animator (with which it would make a great double bill, both films being about mad scientists creating women from dead body parts).
Coming across like the scribblings of a bored schoolboy hitting puberty, the plot concerns one Jeffrey Franken (a marvellous comic performance by James Lorinz), a science geek with a thick New Jersey accent, and his quest to resurrect his girlfriend after she is inadvertently killed by Jeffrey’s remote control lawnmower. With only her head left, nicely preserved in an oestrogen-based concoction, naturally Jeffrey goes cruising round the streets of New York eyeing up the body parts of prostitutes to (re)create his perfect woman. After literally blowing up a roomful of street walkers when they ingest his newly created drug, Super Crack, Jeffrey attracts the unwanted attention of the girls’ moustachioed, gold chain-wearing, muscle-bound pimp Zorro, finally brings back his girlfriend, and then has to try and stop her ensuing sex and violence fuelled rampage.
It is telling that Jeffrey doesn’t seek to simply rebuild his girlfriend exactly as she was in life (a little overweight), but instead seeks to indulge in the male fantasy of creating a perfect woman by only selecting the very best, most aesthetically-pleasing body parts from beautiful ladies of the night. Hilariously un-PC, it’s a film that speaks to one’s inner immature schoolboy. Elements such as exploding prostitutes, blood, guts, nudity, monsters made from merged body parts, and ultra badass pimps only goes to further this notion. Of course, with such distasteful and absurd subject matter there’s always the risk of either causing great offence or descending into laughable hokum. Incredibly, Frankenhooker avoids both these pitfalls through not taking itself seriously and displaying great comic verve which invites you to laugh with the picture, not at it. It’s also clear that, even though the effects aren’t the most sophisticated, the acting’s a bit hammy, and like it’s namesake it’s a hodgepodge of ideas and imagery sewn together from other horror films, it’s obviously so lovingly made and downright funny it’s more charming than seedy, always staying on the right side of bad taste. As if to reassure anyone who is still feeling a little guilty at enjoying a film where prostitutes blow up and women are created for the pleasure of men, the tables are turned at the end of film when (spoiler alert) Jeffrey (objectifer of women, destroyer of a roomful of prostitutes) is completely emasculated as his severed head is transplanted onto a woman’s body.