Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Review: Frankenhooker (1990)

By Mark Wilkinson

This movie has all the right parts in all the right places.

 Since his breakout midnight movie basket case, there were not many voices more distinctive in '80s horror than Frank Henenlotter. His movies feel like no others of the period, they are consistently gross, funny and completely outrageous. Henenlotter's body of work may not be well-made in the classical sense, but you have to admit, they're pretty damn original.

 When his fiancée dies in a freak lawnmower accident that reduces her to a tossed human salad, medical student and wannabe mad scientist Jeff Franken hatches an appropriately bizarre scheme to bring her back to life. He saves her head and salvages parts from various ladies of the night to construct a new body. As you would expect, things go horribly wrong during the resurrection process. Instead of restoring the girl he once knew, the experiment transforms our hero's dismembered lover into an unholy amalgamation of all the hookers he used for parts, with an angry muscle bulging Filipino pimp now on the look-out for his missing hookers.

 As you’d expect from the movie title and ridiculous plot description, the acting in this movie is every bit as overblown and campy as you could imagine. It's manic, it's inflated and at times, just down right awful. (I'm looking at you Zorro). Nevertheless, it works for the story being told.
James Lorinz delivers an interesting performance as the protagonist Jeffrey Franken. Although he does manage to provide some amusing monologues and deliver some of the best deadpan jokes of the movie, he seems like he’s ad-libbing almost every scene he’s in and never fails to ham it up whenever the opportunity arises. The best way to describe his performance would be to Imagine Herbert West (Re-Animator) being portrayed by Darren-oh-my-god-Ewing (Troll 2). Patty Mullen manages to bring forward a somewhat remarkable and charming quality to her character Shelley. However, it’s her exaggerated portrayal of the titular character that exhibits the fun and energetic temperament of the movie. It's when this character is finally awakened and we watch her awkwardly walk around the grimy back streets of New York, subways and seedy motels, decked out in her mammoth platform shoes that the movie begins to operate at full steam until the end credits.

 Cinematographer Robert Baldwin along with Henenlotter do an excellent job in creating an equally demented world for these characters to live in. They manage to showcase a consistently creative visual in an extraordinarily dark and appealing way. From the charming production design that emblazons its budget in every set piece throughout the movie, to the way they manage to capture the seedy backdrops of the big apple, they manage to transport you into this deranged world that feels like it has been caked in filth.

 One of my favourite things is when a gloriously trashy work of art hides its more serious themes behind a trashy veneer. There’s a deft criticism on the ways in which men commodify female beauty, stripping it down into component pieces to be fetishized and objectified. Jeffrey refashions the love of his life, reclaiming her from death’s cold embrace. However, that’s not enough, since he’s going to all this trouble he might as well make some aesthetic improvements and create his perfect woman whilst he’s at it. It's with this underlying tongue in cheek type of dark humour that the movie really unveils  itself and reveals that underneath its exploitative and seedy facade, the movie is in fact, egalitarian in spirit.

 A humorous retelling of the classic Frankenstein story, only with hookers, pimps, and a grimy setting, this movie is absurdly entertaining. While sleazy and full of nudity, Henenlotter manages to keep the film's tone light and fun. Frankenhooker finds the director pushing the envelope further with a brighter, wilder sense of visual design and storytelling. This is a living cartoon, a trash opera. It’s a shambling creature in itself...the head of John Waters stitched onto the torso of Stuart Gordon, fused with cut-up pieces of early Peter Jackson. The film manages to generate a kind of compassion that very few films pertaining to the subject matter of running over a woman with lawnmowers and blowing up prostitutes with super crack in order to stitch all their remains together and bring back your lover ever have.   

 Frankenhooker is in no way a masterpiece, it is a down and dirty flick, it is also however, an absolutely delightful and fun one.

 In the words of Bill Murray "If you only see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER".

Frankenhooker Is Available Now On Arrow Video Blu-Ray

Frankenhooker (1990) Trailer

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