Frankenhooker (1990)

MAY 22, 2010


I know a lot of Frank Henenlotter fans, all of whom are constantly trying to get me to watch his films (as do HMAD readers such as Pyro, who recommended this one a while back), but Frankenhooker is the first time I’ve actually watched one all the way through. An attempt at watching Brain Damage in high school resulted in falling asleep and never going back, and I recently “watched” Basket Case 2 (or 3?) at a party but as we were all talking the whole time I couldn’t tell you a goddamn thing about it. And even Frankenhooker was sort of forced on me by my friends who “let” me borrow many of his films so I can finally catch up.

Well, it’s certainly an enjoyable film, but I can’t see myself wanting to watch it again (at least, not at home - maybe a revival screening would entice me), as it’s a bit too slight for my tastes. It takes a bit for Frankenhooker to actually be created, and she instantly gets loose and the rest of the movie is simply our hero (the Andrew McCarthy-esque James Lorinz) trying to find her. There aren’t any major complications, no other characters to identify with, etc. On the DVD, we learn that the movie was literally made up on the spot during a pitch meeting, so I guess it’s no surprise that it’s a one joke premise with little meat on its bones.

But it’s still amusing in its own cheesy, ridiculous way, not unlike a Troma film (though nowhere near as graphic). There are a number of great sight gags, such as when the obviously demented Dr. Franken (and the titular character’s surname is Shelley) “fixes” a framed photo on the wall by making it crooked, or when he offers a disembodied head some wine and it pools around the neckline. Plus, we have an extended scene of hookers blowing up due to smoking some explosive crack. Dead hookers are always funny.

I want to talk a bit more about Lorinz, who manages to make Franken likable despite the fact that he’s a selfish jerk and also batshit insane. I mean really, the entire movie boils down to a guy making a “perfect” body for his overweight girlfriend, using hookers that he killed without any remorse. But Lorinz brings an affable charm to the role that made him hard to dislike (for the record he’s not really portrayed as a villain - but if you think about it, he IS one). Though I still took pleasure in the ironic ending, which finds him essentially turned into a woman (oddest form of “just desserts” ever?).

I also enjoyed seeing all of the late 80s New York scenery (love the Burton Batman logo in Times Square!!). It seems a lot of independent horror films in the late 80s and early 90s were NY based, and their guerilla style productions allow them to film wherever or whatever the hell they want without getting caught (i.e. filming actual hookers). It must have been a great time and place to be an upcoming filmmaker, PA and other crew jobs must have been a dime a dozen during the period. And who’d choose working on some bland Hollywood production over working on something called Frankenhooker?

The DVD is jampacked with stuff, though sadly most of it can be skipped. The commentary with Henenlotter and makeup FX artist Gabe Bartalos is definitely worth the listen - they speak candidly about crew issues (apparently the DP was a nightmare to work with), the film’s origin, a castmate’s suicide... the whole nine yards. There’s also a great Bill Murray story that simply must be heard to be believed. And the 10 minute interview with Frankenhooker herself, Patty Mullen (who is smoking hot these days - how is it possible that this was her 3rd and final movie?) is very fast and fun. The same cannot be said for the other extras, which consist of Bartalos talking about his FX, though he does it in front of a strip club and other odd locations, and it goes on forever. My advice would be to shut it off after he talks about the Frankenhooker makeup design. And you can completely skip the recollections of Jennifer Delora, who played one of the hookers, as she speaks for a total of 35 minutes about her 90 seconds of screentime. Some of her anecdotes are a bit amusing, but she’s so annoying and takes so long to tell them, it’s not worth the effort to hear them (unless you are a fan of hers from her other stuff - if so then you will probably love the interview!). Trivia - these pieces are directed by Scooter McCrae, director of the equally overlong and pointless Shatter Dead. Good to know his DVD bonus features are produced with the same mentality as his films.

I’ve heard that this is Henenlotter’s best movie, which sucks as I like to see a filmmaker’s “average” film first. Like with Carpenter - you don’t want to start with Halloween or The Thing, because then it’s all downhill (my advice, for the record: start with something like They Live, and then go in reverse from that point. Then watch everything that came after at your convenience; no rush). Since I didn’t love the movie, I’m going to find it hard to muster up the enthusiasm to watch ones that aren’t as good. Bad Biology sounds like a wonderfully perverse delight though, maybe I’ll watch that one next.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. its amazing. you loved it. admit it.

    i really think you need to rediscover the basket case series. it's genuinely amazing. and wow, i totally left it at your house. so you have no reason not to. perfect!

    also, brain damage is a little overlong but still great. what is wrong with you??

  2. I entirely concur with the above comment. I'd personally categorize BRAIN DAMAGE, BASKET CASE 2 and FRANKENHOOKER as masterpieces. And even Henenlotter's weaker films like BASKET CASE 3: THE PROGENY and BAD BIOLOGY are well worth seeing.

    Of course, I'd put SHATTER DEAD in the "semi-masterpieces" column...

  3. I can't decide whether Brain Damage or Basket Case is Henenlotter's masterpiece. Frankenhooker and Bad Biology are great, but a little beneath those two, followed (not too closely) by the Basket Case sequels, which are fun in their own right. Brain Damage has a similarly likable lead and a blow job scene that will blow your mind.

    Also, check out James Lorinz as the doorman in Street Trash. He pretty much steals the movie.

  4. I'm a card-carrying member of the BASKET CASE fan club. (I'm talking about the original.) It is my hands-down favorite Henenlotter film.

    Not only is it kind of audaciously naive and A-for-effort/low budget charming, but it has that same gritty New York/non-permit/guerrilla style going for it. In that regard, I got a charge out of watching it again recently for the same reasons you did watching FRANKENHOOKER, Brian.

    (And I don't know if BASKET CASE was filmed in sequence or not, but the quality of the movie seems to improve as it goes along. A very weird observation some friends of mine and I had after that recent viewing.)


  5. I am a huge Henenlotter fan but Bad Biology is a misstep. It's such a shame since he hadn't directed in years. There's a charm to his films that's missing from Biology. Please watch that last BC!

  6. the correct order of awesome is as follows:

    brain damage
    basketcase 3
    basketcase 1
    basketcase 2
    bad biology

  7. BASKET CASE (the original) is not only Hennenlotter's best movie, it's a horror classic! This is FH before his movies went really over the top funny. A great concept with an amazing, grimy, "pre-Guiliani/Disney" NYC atmosphere similar to MANIAC. Though Frankenhooker is cool, you're gonna appreciate BASKET CASE that much more because you're seeing it after.

    BAD BIOLOGY is co-written by rapper R.A. The Rugged Man, so it's got a different feel...still worth watching if only for the back up dancers in the music video scene.

  8. MANIAC was precisely the movie I was thinking of while watching the 42nd street stuff in BASKET CASE...

  9. I love movies with the old NYC vibe...dirty, grimy shit. MANIAC is CLAS-SICK!!!

  10. Brain Damage is a masterpiece and insanely hilarious/entertaining. In my top five favorite movies of all time.


  11. I agree with whoever's saying that Brain Damage is Henenlotter's best.

  12. Basket Case is my favorite, and Brain Damage is his best. The rest I could take or leave. I thought Frankenhooker was sort of boring, I agree with the review, it was just middle of the road and lightweight.


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