Frank Henenlotter came at the end of the 1980's independent horror movement, the same movement that brought us Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Maniac, Evil Dead, Pieces, and a host of other potential slasher franchises. In fact, the success of earlier indie horror such as Halloween and Friday the 13th helped move much slasher cinema out of the indie side and into mainstream where it was neutered, sanitized for your protection, and killed.
In the midst of all this was a weird little movie that slinked across from cinema to cinema across the country, Basket Case. Frank Henenlotter had made the scene. Shot in New York and featuring a truly original storyline, effective gore, and better than average acting, Basket Case shone like a little star in the mirk of the early 1980s. Basket Case was, if I remember correctly, released unrated, so it was often relegated to late or midnight shows that, when I saw it at the now defunct Cinema 140 in New Bedford Massachusetts, were absolutely stuffed to the rafters with gore-crazed teenagers.
Basket Case led to another small film, Brain Damage, and a sequel to Basket Case before Henenlotter embarked on his most ambitious and commercially viable film yet, Frankenhooker. Saddled with a budget far in excess of what he'd had with any previous film, and a cast that included one recognizable actress Louise Lasseur (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman).
Frankenhooker is both a comedy and a social commentary film that explores psychopathic mania and crack addiction and in that respect the film succeeds. It's funny and manages to convey the message obsession is as bad as crack and crack is so bad that it will make you an explosive hooker.
Jeffrey Franken, a med school dropout and bioelectrical hobbyist invents a remote controlled lawn mower for his fiancé Elizabeth's dad. When Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) shows off the machine at the party, it promptly runs her down. In the aftermath, Jeffrey has stolen some of her parts and vows to put her back together again. He keeps her parts in a specially designed freezer in his garage. First though, he must find suitable limbs and other bits to reconstruct her body.
Short on funds (he's works as a low level tech for the city electric company) and with only a short window to create the new body, Jeffrey picks the women most likely to be available on short notice; prostitutes. But prostitutes are expensive and probably won't want to donate their limbs and organs for his process. When I say prostitutes, I don't meant the Julia Roberts "hooker with a heart of gold" prostitutes so often portrayed in non-pornography films.
I mean crack whores. Henenlotter wisely choose to make Jeffrey's victims the very epitome of late 1980's hookerdom. They are rude, repugnant, dumb, and tools of their overly muscled pimp Zorror. But boy won't they do anything for a hit of Jeffrey's super crack, a substance that in the testing phase, caused the test guinea pig to explode like a furry grenade.
Jeffrey convinces the lead hooker Honey, to bring a bunch of women to fulfill a sex fantasy where he's a doctor. After measuring all of the girls' respective parts, he balks at the madness of recreating his girlfriend. However, Honey and the girls find his stash of supercrack, smoke it up, and explode.
Jeffrey collects all the proper body parts and begins reassembling Elizabeth. But Elizabeth has a past that Jeffrey didn't know about, she too was a crack whore in Zorro's stable. Thus, upon reanimation, she reverts back to her streetwalking persona, and the personas of all the new parts added from the rest of Zorro's girls. Oh, and she's super strong too.
Now Jeffrey must both prevent Elizabeth from going on an inadvertent John-killing rampage and restore the mind of his one true love.
Frankenhooker is dated, and it shows. But don't let that dissuade you from watching it. The cornball stuff transcends the miniscule budget and James Lorinz perpetual first-person monologue is hilariously well delivered. Since for most of the film he interacts only with himself and some non-speaking mannequin parts, he successfully conveys his mania as he examines and cross examines his choices.
The supporting cast is very good too!
The special effects are budget jobs, but still manage to be cartoonishly gory and effective. The scenes of cracked out hookers exploding are extremely funny, and the squished heads, torn off limbs, and other bits are very good examples of low budget appliance work.
While Brain Damage is a better film storywise, and Basket Case is a better horror film, Frankenhooker is the best of Henenlotter's output because it combines the best aspects of his previous work.
He now works for "Something Weird" a cable channel/On-Demand service that spools cheapy exploitation and horror flicks on cable TV. It's a shame he hasn't made a film since Frankenhooker though, with a sizeable budget and a few more name actors he could be one of the more successful genre directors working today.
Unearthed Films really packs this DVD with everything a fan could ask for. They include a couple of funny and informative commentary tracks with Director/Writer Henenlotter and make up artist Gabe Bartalos, video interview with Patty Mullen and Jennifer Delora, Patty Mullin's Polaroids from when the film was produced, and a bunch of behind the scenes goodies. Perhaps most importantly the film is restored to its gory original greatness where previous versions have issued the studio edit so there's more supercrack footage, and I think the jokes are funnier.
While Henenlotter's name may not be well known, and Frankenhooker may be even less noteworthy to mainstream genre fans, the impact of his films hasn't been overlooked. The X-Files spoofed Basket Case, and May borrows liberally from Frankenhooker.
So settle back with some popcorn, a pipe full of supercrack, and a couple of cold beers then prepare to laugh, Frankenhooker is on.