Frank Henenlotter doesn’t have the largest body of work, but what he does have stands out, Frankenhooker being his fourth film. Frankenhooker is a black-comedy horror film with some strong exploitative elements, that’s garnered a decent cult following and holds a respectable 62% freshness on rotten tomatoes. Well respectable given the fact it’s named Frankenhooker and you should know the kind of film you’re getting into basted on the name alone.
The film opens at a birthday celebration for Elizabeth Shelly’s (Patty Mullen) father. During the party Elizabeth reveals her father’s gift, a riding lawn mower that her fiance Jeffery Franken (James Lorinz), a brilliant mad scientist having been kicked out of no less than three medical schools has modified to function via remote control. While demonstrating how the controller works accidentally runs herself over, killing herself. During the commotion a number of her parts go missing most notably her head. An undisclosed amount of time later, we learn the Jeffery has taken the loss of Elizabeth hard and has become withdrawn and anti-social, spending all his time in the garage. Which happens to be where his laboratory is. It’s also revealed that Jeffery stole the parts himself in hopes of bringing Elizabeth back to life. With a storm system moving in that will provide the power needed, Jeffery only has two days to get the parts he needs to build a body. After some thinking Jeffery realizes there’s an easy solution to his problem just over the river Manhattan in the form of prostitutes. He goes over and after asking around Zorro (Joseph Gonzalez) a pimp/drug dealer, who sets him up with a number of girls and sells him some crack. Jeffery uses the crack to make a lethal version of Super Crack which he plans on giving the girls to kill them so he can harvest the parts he needs. He plays doctor with the girls to examine their parts, but feels guilty about killing them so falters. The girls get upset and when they go to get the money from his bag they find the Super Crack and decided to smoke it. Jeffery tries to warn them, but is ignored and even held down as all the girls smoke the super crack, resulting in them exploding and dying. Zorro arrives at the last moment to witness his lead girl explode before being knocked out by her flying head. In the wake of the exploding prostitutes Jeffery gathers up the pieces he needs, plus a couple extra. He assembles the body and brings Elizabeth back, but only she isn’t who she used to be, saying and acting like the girls before they found the crack and exploded. Elizabeth knocks out Jeffery when she asks if he has money and he declines, before heading back to work and Zorro…
I like the Frankenstein monster and really like it when people have fun with the concept. Which since its first publication in 1818, has seen a lot of reinterpretations. Frankenhooker being among the best of them. The film includes more than a few references to its source material. Mostly in the names of characters, Franken and Shelly. Franken being an obvious allusion to Frankestein and Shelly being a reference to the novels author Marry Shelly. Even more obviously is Elizabeth herself when she comes back to life and acquires her neck bolts, made iconic by Boris Karloff.
While released in 1990, Frankenhooker is most definitely an 80’s film at heart. Which is fortunate as it creates a solid disconnect with modern films, mostly due to when they visit Time’s Square in the film and it’s the den in iniquity, and ill-repute, before Rudy Giulliani started his heavy clean-up of the area in the mid 90’s. But mostly it’s just the fashion, music and general feel that places it so firmly in era of the late 80’s.
My only complaint is Frankenhookers depiction of all sex workers as drug addicts. While yes, many are. This film depicts sex workers as exceedingly one dimensional, something that isn’t realistic or fair. It’s this blatant lopsidedness to how sex workers, i.e. prostitutes are viewed that makes them incredibly unlikable and when characters are unlikable you don’t feel bad when they explode. Their “return” during the films climax comes off as weak as well since their goal isn’t revenge on the man who killed them, but instead on drugs brought by Zorro. Just the whole concept that all prostitutes are also drug addicts doesn’t sit well with me.
Final thoughts, Frankenhooker is a smashing B-movies and was far more a delight to watch than I was expecting. Mostly I was expecting to be barely entertained, while being upset that one of favorite horror icons was being dragged through the gutter. Not the case at all, sure more than a little low-brow humor permeates the film. But it’s done well. Well… as well as low-brow humor can be done at the least. The acting while not outstanding, is fun and James Lorinz does a really great job. My favorite scene in the film is when Jeffery is talking with his mother about how he’s going insane and he knows it and his mothers realization he’s right, but is unable to do anything. Makes the scene far more somber and memorable. 8/10