Frankenhooker


***½

Frank Henenlotter is a madman. A delightfully warped filmmaker who wears "distasteful" as a badge of pride. Hookers literally explode thanks to Gabe Bartalos' makeup effects handiwork. A flying severed head clunks a pimp on the head and knocks him unconscious. A Jersey electrical company employee, fancying himself a scientist and mechanical wizard, gives a section of his brain the occasional drill to soothe his state of mind! You see the film's mad scientist investigating as assortment of hooker body parts (these legs, arms, heads, etc are purposely of the novelty prop store variety... Henenlotter doesn't even try to hide this!)
 

James Lorinz, the wise ass doorman in Street Trash (1987), gets the semi-starring role as Jeffrey, unable to recover from the gruesome demise of his fiancé, Elizabeth (the remarkable Patty Mullen), decides he’ll bring her back to life…well her head (and the brain inside) anyway! The rest of her body, as so descriptively explained by a news report in all the gory detail, was chopped into gooey mulch by Jeffrey’s remote-controlled lawnmower. Yep, Lizzy was standing right in its path and was devoured by it! So Jeffrey is up day and night, making out his extensive diagrams, determining what needs to be done in order to bring his girl back to him. He decides, against his better judgment, to go searching for hooker parts in NYC, leaving Jersey suburbia for the back alleys where the ladies of the night offer their wares to looky-loos. Jeffrey needs only flash some cash and the ladies of a pimp named Zorro (!) organize a “party” for the next night. When Jeffrey sees Zorro selling dope to dopefiends, a spark of opportunity arises in his brain…how about he creates quite a drug that causes the user to explode! Off to the races Jeffrey will go and soon plenty of parts will be available to him! The hookers going KABOOM! is something absolutely twisted and stupendously bonkers. That’s Henenlotter, though. He’ll include an ending where Jeffrey awakens after his head’s been lopped off by Zorro attached to a female body while Lizzy, having gone through something similar, is enthusiastic about how her own work turned out such a “success”. The crème de le crème, though has all the “excess hooker parts” kept in a freezer with Jeffrey’s “purple life serum” following the lure of Zorro’s baggie of dope! Yes, these parts are “fused” into hybrid things crawling about, eventually dragging Zorro into the freezer for God knows what horrible things…and before they do, these things (that make Belial from Basket Case look normal in comparison) make sure to get the dope!

The dialogue in this film runs midnight black and is crazed as a loon. A sample:

Jeffreys Mother: Oh, Jeffrey... I'm worried about you.

Jeffrey Franken: Yeah - Well so am I, Ma. Something's happening to me that I just don't understand. I can't think straight anymore. It's like my reasoning is all, uh, twisted and distorted, you know? I seem to be disassociating myself from reality more and more each day. I'm anti-social. I'm becoming dangerously amoral. I - I've lost the ability to distinguish between right from wrong, good from bad. I'm scared, Ma. I mean, I feel like I'm - I'm plunging headfirst into some kind of black void of sheer and utter madness or something.

Jeffreys Mother: You want a sandwich?

Henenlotter hasn’t the bionic output of many of his peers, but what little represents his oeuvre certainly carries with it a willingness to go to the extreme, and there is no stem of the rose he won’t pluck for a reaction. It’s all in good fun, though. When you see Jeffrey trying to get this “brain cyclops” in a jar of fluid to follow his hand—similar to Cushing in Revenge of Frankenstein—while at a dinner table, as his mother-in-law bandies about getting arrangements taken care of for his father-in-law’s birthday celebration outside, it is obvious Henenlotter prepares you for exactly how his film’s work. He goes all out, immediately from the get-go, telling you his film will not operate within the norms of decency. As hookers snatch away Jeffrey’s stash of explosive dope, with him unable to stop them from ingesting it, with them sparkling like Roman candles before the pop; Henenlotter offers horror fans something completely different from anything they could have imagined. At the end of the 80s that produced Street Trash and From Beyond, Henelotter had a crazy road he could travel, and excess was the mistress he didn’t hide but shared with us all. Although it was now 1990, this film had it's heart still in the decade previous.

Henenlotter cast this movie with a treasure of quirky faces and characters. Louise Lasser as Jeffrey’s mom, devoid of just how lost to madness her son really is. Joanne Ritchie as the potential mother-in-law totally oblivious to Jeffrey’s mad science right on a dinner table as her hubby’s birthday party was being conducted. Joseph Gonzalez as the pimp with such control over his girls they have the letter Z carved into their arms as if cattle branded! But Mullen as the resurrected Elizabeth, with all those facial expressions and the gait, those jerky motions and cumbersome convergence of personalities from the various hookers that now occupy her thanks to Jeffrey’s attaching their parts to her; this actress is startlingly brilliant!

What a batshit crazy midnight movie. Highlight: a very excited customer for Frankenhooker gets the shock of his life. And it literally takes his head off! Oh, and going down on Frankenhooker was not a wise decision at all for an associate of Zorro's! There's more than a spark or two waiting down there!









Henenlotter never fails to reintroduce us to the bowels and dirty, sleazy side of his city. And while Jason Voorhees might have been advertised as the ultimate oddball in NYC, I think Frankenhooker gives him a run for his money.

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