BR: Frankenhooker (1990)

January 11, 2012 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer: Excellent/ DVD Extras: Excellent

Label: Synapse Films/ Region: A, B, C / Released: November 8, 2011

Genre: Horror / Comedy / Sexploitation

Synopsis: A brilliantly innovative nerd rebuilds the remais of his bride using parts from hookers. Really, that’s the whole thing in a nutshell.

Special Features: Audio Commentary with director Frank Henenlotter and make-up effects designer Gabe Bartalo / 4 Featurettes: “A Salad That Was Once Named Elizabeth” (8:53) + “S Stitch in Time: The Make-Up Effects of Frankenhooker” (21:00) + “Turning Tricks: Jennifer Delora Remembers Frankenhooker” (19:32) + “Jennifer Delora’s Frankenhooker Phot Scrapbook” (11:21) / Theatrical Trailer / Reversible Sleeve Art




Perhaps the strangest aspect of Frank Henenlotter’s career is how he made a splash with the exploitation classic Basket Case in 1982, produced a handful of like-minded oddities, and then stepped away from filmmaking in 1992, re-emerging years later in 2008 with Bad Biology and disappearing again from fiction filmmaking.

Brain Damage (1988) is perfect evidence of uncanny knack for writing bizarre, satirical stories with memorable characters and dialogue, and Frankenhooker, while not as perfect in the story department (it’s loosely inspired by the brilliantly bad The Brain That Wouldn’t Die), is still a classic take on Frankenstein, set in a world where most people are complete idiots.

Jeffrey Franken (played by the idiosyncratic James Lorinz) loses his love Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) to the remote-controlled lawnmower he designed for her father, and attempts to rebuild her using not spare parts, but ‘better’ parts, because if you already have the head (face + brain + love) of your dearly mulched, why not improve things during the restoration process and go on a shopping trip to the local brothel?

Keeping her parts in an old freezer filled with some miracle preservation goo, Jeffrey bargains with a buffed pimp to rent his top girls, and he’s supposed to pick & choose the ideal donors but can’t winnow down his favs when each chicken sports her own unique combination of attributes.

Discovering Jeffrey’s medical bag is filled with super-crack – a newly minted concoction designed to lure his choice(s) back to the lab (er, the family garage) – the hookers go mad and get high, causing them to explode en mass, littering the room with body parts. Jeffrey gathers what he can in trash bags and heads home, where he reassembles Elizabeth, only to lose her when the hooker DNA creates a personality blur, and sends his love walking the streets of NYC in search of hungry men.

Perhaps being a part of the Shapiro-Glickenhaus roster or as an in-joke, Henenlotter cast David Lipman as a doomed John again, the character actor having previously played the sadistic State Senator from New Jersey in Glickenhaus’ mean Exterminator 10 years earlier.

When originally released on VHS, Frankenhooker was offered in rated & unrated versions (of which the latter was, for a blip illegal, in Ontario), not because of the nudity per se, but perhaps the severed parts and nude hooker bits that Jeffrey must organize, fondle, and reassemble into his perfect bride. Synapse’s Blu-ray naturally contains the uncut version, and the transfer is very clean, showing off the rich purple and pink hues that dominate the colour palette without really dating the film’s look (although the hooker’s big hair and ugly clothes do that on their own).

The sound mix is well-balanced, and Joe Renzetti’s score offers a decent combination of synth underscore and light rock-jazz for the hooker scenes. Synapse’s BR also includes a fairly solid commentary track with Henenlotter and makeup effects designer Gabe Bartalos (one of several extras from a prior 2006 Unearthed Films DVD), both covering everything from casting, locations, effects, and goofball ideas, like Jeffrey using a common drill to stimulate key brain centres to improve his ability to refine theoretical problems.

A Q&A with actress / former 1985 Penthouse Magazine Pet of the Month Patty Mullen offers up more personal making-of anecdotes (including her character’s classic twisted lip twitch). More details of the makeup effects are elaborated in a separated featurette comprised of archival video footage showing the actors being made up by the effects team, plus details of the exploding hooker sequence.

Actress Jennifer Delora (one of the combustible prostitutes) also discusses her memories in a separate featurette, and contributed material for the BR’s archived scrapbook. In his commentary, Henenlotter admits some of the slimy creature effects in the finale were inspired by related creature work on Basket Case 2, which was ramping up into production; and the lack of blood and viscera in Frankenhooker ensured his horror-comedy wouldn’t have major issues with censor boards.

Note: similar to Maniac Cop [M] and The Exterminator [M] (titles in the Shapiro-Glickenhaus catalogue), Frankenhooker has also been licensed to U.K. label Arrow Video. Their BR (coded for regions A, B, and C) contains the same making-of featurettes, but in place of the Henenlotter-Bartalos audio commentary, Arrow recorded their own, featuring Henenlotter and co-star Lorinz. Also exclusive is Bartalos’ ‘personal’ tour of his L.A. effects lab, a film intro by Lorinz, booklet with liner notes by Calum Wadell, and reversible sleeve art.

Henenlotter’s current canon is comprised of the following key work: Basket Case (1982), Brain Damage (1988), Basket Case 2 (1990), Frankenhooker (1990), Basket Case 3 (1992), Bad Biology (2008), and the documentary Hershell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010).

Patty Mullen’s film tiny C.V. includes Doom Asylum (1987), the TV movie Clash of the Champions (1988), and Frankenhooker (1990), although in her interview she says she’s game for a Frankenhooker II.



© 2012 Mark R. Hasan


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