By Aleck Bennett
“If you only see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER.” – Bill Murray
And just who do you think you are to argue with Bill Murray? Thankfully, Splatter Cinema and Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre have joined forces to make this easy for you. Heck, the Splatter folks even filmed an exclusive interview with star Patty Mullen at last weekend’s Days of the Dead convention to sweeten the deal.
Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), lowly employee at New Jersey Electric and erstwhile mad scientist, has a problem. His beloved fiancée Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) has just been dismembered in a freak lawnmower accident, and he was only able to retrieve the head. He’s got the means to bring her back, but since her body is missing, why not spring for some upgrades? Armed with an explosive batch of crack, he starts to collect choice parts from NYC’s hookers, but what happens when Elizabeth wakes up and starts looking for tricks on 42nd Avenue? Can Jeffrey win back his blushing bride-to-be?
Few people on this planet are as devoted to the form and function of the grindhouse era as director Frank Henenlotter. Beyond capturing and preserving the pre-Disneyfication of Times Square in the classic BASKET CASE, he has long been associated with Something Weird Video, rescuing classic exploitation films from destruction and presenting many of them in the “Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers” series. In FRANKENHOOKER, he returns to the seedy side of New York City, but this time sees it being decimated by the crack epidemic.
Not that FRANKENHOOKER is some preachy vehicle, mind you. Like in Henenlotter’s previous film BRAIN DAMAGE, the subtext of drug abuse is present and slyly addressed, but this time—as opposed to the more serious-minded BRAIN DAMAGE— the emphasis is fully on sleaze and gore so over-the-top as to be hilarious. And as always, that’s why we love Frank.
Now, a lot can be said for Henenlotter’s visual style, which he has always managed to pull off without the benefit of any kind of real budget. For instance, his use of lighting and color is consistently well-thought-out and effective, and his ability to shoot effects that both maximize their impact and mask their cheapness is almost unmatched. The fact that FRANKENHOOKER was a larger-budgeted film didn’t lead to him getting lazy on this shoot; it only makes the film look that much more expensive than it was. But his real talent has always been his ability to pull unexpectedly great performances out of unlikely suspects. In BASKET CASE, it’s Kevin Van Hentenryck as Duane Bradley. In FRANKENHOOKER, it’s former Penthouse Pet of the Year Patty Mullen. Previously only seen in the abysmal DOOM ASYLUM and a couple of bit parts on TV, Mullen turns in a brilliant comedic performance as the undead patchwork prostitute. She’s completely believable as the sweet Elizabeth (pre-lawnmower death) and her shift into the gratingly aggressive “Frankenhooker” persona, accompanied by completely insane facial mugging, is something of a triumph for someone who is essentially a non-actor. It’s a shame that this is her final film to date, as she’s just an incredibly likeable presence throughout. Co-star James Lorinz has always been a weak link for me in this movie, coming across as a poor man’s Andrew McCarthy, but in recent years I’ve warmed up to his overacting, twitchy presence and incessant ad-libbing. It’s not that he’s bad; he’s just completely overshadowed by Mullen.
Henenlotter has peppered the film with familiar faces as well. Louise Lasser (MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN) appears as Jeffrey’s mom, pioneering TV horror host Zacherley shows up as a weatherman, and cameos also go to Henenlotter regular Beverly Bonner and the legendary Shirley Stoler (THE HONEYMOON KILLERS, THE DEER HUNTER, SEVEN BEAUTIES, PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE).
The screenplay by Frank and FANGORIA founding editor Bob Martin (who wrote the novelization of BRAIN DAMAGE) is constantly amusing, mixing references to FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE with clever spoofs of local news and late-night talk shows. It’s quite probably the best screenplay that Henenlotter has ever had to work with. BRAIN DAMAGE is a more cerebral work (pun intended), but FRANKENHOOKER is more flat-out entertaining.
So join Splatter Cinema in sharing Frank Henenlotter’s love for grindhouse cinema in the only surviving theater in Atlanta that once served as a grindhouse: the Plaza.
Bill Murray demands it.
Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.