(Frank Henenlotter • USA • 1990)
‘Frankenhooker’ is an exquisitely black horror comedy from 1990, directed (and co-written, with Robert Martin) by the mighty Frank Henenlotter (‘Basket Case’ trilogy, ‘Brain Damage’, ‘Bad Blood’). A loving pastiche of the Frankenstein strand, the film introduces us to our medical student hero Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), who, after tragically losing his girlfriend Elizabeth Shelley (former ‘Penthouse Pet’ Patty Mullen) in a heartbreaking lawnmower-related incident, decides to bring her back…
Sadly, Jeffrey was only able to save Elizabeth’s head, and so consequently hatches a plan involving the local red light district and some seriously kitchen chemistry (Super Crack!). Local Freddy-Mercury-on-steroids, the pimp Zito (Joseph Gonzalez) gets wind of Jeffrey’s scheme, and is soon in hot pursuit of our hero, taking offence to this intrusion into his territory. Having managed to secure a new body for Elizabeth despite the attentions of Zito and sundry other distractions, Jeffrey reanimates her in a dramatic sequence…however, things go from bad to worse when she reacts exceedingly badly to her new ‘life’, escaping to run amok as a demented and murderous caricature of a Times Square hooker.
‘Frankenhooker’ initially found it difficult to obtain the MPAA’s coveted ‘R’ rating, with one board representative allegedly referring to the film as “shit”. Eventually, Henenlotter secured the rating, but was forced to make cuts to 21 scenes – a total loss of nearly 2 minutes of footage. Luckily, we can now easily obtain the film in its full and uncut glory!
Critical reception was admittedly mixed, but it’s difficult to comprehend why the film only grossed a twelfth of its budget on its initial USA release (although the cuts likely didn’t help), as ‘Frankenhooker’ possesses considerable charm, carrying the viewer throughout its zany journey. Happily, the various video and DVD releases (one screeching “Wanna date?!” when a case-mounted button was pushed!) have brought this film to a wider audience, with Bill Murray reportedly rating it among his favourites (according to a Henenlotter interview in ‘Fangoria’ magazine). With some excellent performances (Mullen’s turn as Elizabeth in particular, evoking as it does a favourable comparison with the generic ketamine raver), endearingly camp effects, and a shedload of ideas, the film is a true genre classic, and deserving of attention.
Genre references abound throughout, with nods to ‘Frankenstein’ (1931), ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935), ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’ (1962), ‘The Body Shop’ (1972), ‘Re-Animator’ (1985), and ‘Deadly Friend’ (1986), as well as Henenlotter’s own ‘Basket Case’ series (1982-1991), and ‘Brain Damage’ (1988).