It’s the long awaited return of stone cold babe Patty Mullen and the even longer awaited bow for horror-comedy maestro Frank Henenlotter!
Henenlotter is best known for his Basket Case trilogy along with this week’s B-Movie Enema feature, Frankenhooker. Henenlotter was inspired by the exploitation films of 42nd Street in his home town of New York City. He loved these films growing up and he copied a lot of the camp and the gore of those films while also not passing up the opportunity for a little bit of sex.
After making a third Basket Case movie in the early 90s, he turned his love of the offbeat and oft-forgotten films of 42nd Street and get involved with the new boutique video releasing company Something Weird Video. He set about becoming an expert historian of exploitation and gory horror and was instrumental to the restoration of those long trashed movies of his youth. Shortly after returning, he began making documentaries. Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore, one of the documentaries he made shortly after returning to film, is a goddamn treat. I recommend that to any fan of schlock filmmakers and movies.
There’s a quote of Henenlotter’s that makes him a perfect match for this little website of mine. “I never felt that I made ‘horror films’. I always felt I made exploitation films. Exploitation films have an attitude more than anything – an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on, whether it’s sex or drugs or rock and roll.”
Welcome home, Frank.
As for Frankenhooker, it’s legendarily said that Bill Murray hung out with the crew while he was editing Quick Change, which also came out around the same time. Murray began asking about Frankenhooker and when the distributor wanted to get Murray’s endorsement of the film, he was a little perturbed, and Henenlotter was embarrassed. The concern was that they were taking advantage of Murray’s curiosity and friendliness to them. However, when Henenlotter finally ran into Murray after avoiding him for weeks, Murray volunteered his now famous quote, “If you see one movie this year, it should be Frankenhooker.”
I have known about this movie since roughly the time it was released. When I was about 13 or 14, somewhere, my dad got a gigantic Variety magazine that was mostly a catalog of movies that were either slated to be released in 1990 or 1991 or seeking distribution or seeking funding. It also had some interesting reference material about box office business by decade. Throughout the gigantic, 400 or 500-page edition, there were full page, color ads for movies seeking attention. Frankenhooker was one of these movies. The image of Patty Mullen’s pale face and purple hair snarling at me was a part of my growing sexuality and attraction to women.
I am a very weird dude.
Anyway, about that reference material of top couple hundred grossing movies by decade, that Variety magazine was the only place I EVER saw that called decades from the year that ended with the 1 as the first year of the decade and ended with the 0. What I mean by that is that they listed the grosses for the 80s as ranging from 1981 to 1990, not 1980 to 1989. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen decades listed like that. However, it kind of makes sense to my deranged brain. When we count up, we start on 1, not 0. We don’t count 10 seconds by counting 0 to 9, we do it 1 to 10. Therefore, it does kind of make sense that the years were counted that way.
Whatever. The point is, I looked through that book so damn much and Frankenhooker was advertised in that magazine. So maybe the reason why I am the way I am is due to Variety. Who knows? It is the spice of life, or so I’m told.
The movie begins with Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) messing about with a jar of purple goo that has a brain with an eyeball in it. He is trying to elicit some sort of recognition from the eyeball to watch his hand move back and forth and so on. Apparently, it is also connected to a monitor as well. Right out of the gate, I have to point out something I love about Frank Henenlotter. This opening scene with the purple goo and the brain thing appears to be taking place in Franken’s kitchen. He’s got a tablecloth on his table. He’s got a microwave behind him. There’s ketchup on the table.
Indeed, that’s exactly what’s going on. There’s a cookout going on in the backyard and he’s inside HIS GIRLFRIEND’S house working on a brain in a goo jar. Outside, we meet Jeffrey’s girlfriend and fiancé, Elizabeth Shelley (Patty Mullen). She doesn’t exactly have what you’d call a dream relationship with her mother. Oh sure, they get along, but her mom is always telling Elizabeth to go on diets and stop eating this or stop doing that. We find out through some exposition dialog between her and her friend that Elizabeth is a compulsive eater.
There’s more here that I find really charming. First, I think they have Patty Mullen dressed kind of frumpy to make her look a little plumper than she really is. I think it’s just extra layers of clothing. Second, and my favorite thing, this is clearly a Long Island family because Elizabeth and her friend both have kind of thick New Jersey accents. I think some people would try to wipe that out and leave that for the lower class folks in the movie, but not Frank Henenlotter. Hell no, this family is from Jersey, goddammit. He’s gonna let these accents breathe.
I also like that Elizabeth tells her friend that Jeffrey stapled her stomach to try to help her eating problems. Her friend is a little weirded out about that, but why wouldn’t she let her soon to be husband operate on her? Oh, and she finally gets Jeffrey to go outside after he blew up his brain he was messing with and Mrs. Shelley is very happy about this because she needs the kitchen table to make cole slaw. When a spark erupts from Jeffrey’s equipment, she barely responds. Clearly Mrs. Shelley is just a grin and bear it kind of wife that doesn’t worry about anything.
For her father’s birthday, Elizabeth got him a brand new lawnmower. What’s really neat about it is that Jeffrey rigged it up with a remote control! You see, this button here turns it on. And this one adjusts the speed. This one over here controls the direction, and then…
With Elizabeth dead and all cut up from the lawnmower, Jeffrey is now obsessed with trying to resurrect her through a body with various circuits, wires, etc. running through it. You see, Jeffrey isn’t really a medical doctor or biology expert, he’s an electrical genius. He did go to medical school, but was kicked out of several of them. It’s hard to say that he knows anything about growing new tissue like Frankenstein, or resurrecting the dead like, um, Frankenstein. He does know that he might be able to put the right wires, transformers, and circuit boards together to give Elizabeth life again.
He takes a break from his research to watch the news report of the tragic accident that took the life of his beloved fiancé. It’s maybe the best news report I’ve ever heard.
Jeffrey’s ma (Louise Lasser, probably best known for playing the titular Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman on TV) comes to talk to him. She would like for him to move on. Meet a new girl. Maybe go back to medical school. However, Jeffrey can’t. He goes into a big spiel about how he’s plunging headlong into darkness and sadness. He’s losing touch with reality and with right and wrong. What can his ma do to comfort him?
She can make him a sandwich.
He turns down the dinner suggestion. He does promise to not stay up all night, though. He goes out to his car and gets a burlap bag out of his trunk. In the garage, he has what appears to be a fully functional laboratory to work on his stuff. In the bag is a giant sparkplug (like comically large). In the freezer, well… Like all people with names that sound like “Jeffrey”, his freezer is full of his fiancé’s body parts. If you did your homework and watched the above clip, you know it’s the body parts that have been deemed missing from the scene of her death.
In two days, a storm will be coming to Jersey. It will be enough to power his lab in order to bring her back to life. He’ll take what he has left of her, and give her a new rest of her body. Well, here’s the thing with that… In order for her to come back, somebody has to take her place. Someone must die for Elizabeth to live again.
However, he’s only got those two days to figure out where to get the rest of the parts. He’s gotta come up with a plan real fast. How does he do that? He takes a drill and drills into his brain to literally mix up his brain power to get him to think of the best plan and have the fortitude to go through with it. The first plan was to find some stewardesses at the airport and grab one, but that wasn’t going to work. The second time, he comes up with the plan to buy the female body parts he needs with his Christmas Club account.
He goes to New York City to scout the hookers. He doesn’t need one perfect woman. He is looking for perfect parts. If it takes several women, then so be it, but he’s gotta try to find the woman with the most perfect bits. He finds one girl that he mostly likes, but he doesn’t want just one. He doesn’t want just two. He wants about six or seven to go to a “party” with him for his “brother” who is “sick”. A couple of the girls say they can find all the babes he could possibly want, but they better talk to their pimp, Zorro.
There’s another part of the plan that Jeffery has to come up with. He’s gotta figure out how he can efficiently kill a whole bunch of hookers. He realizes that Zorro also deals crack cocaine. So he decides to come up with “super crack” that will kill them. The super crack makes things explode.
The next night, it’s time to meet with the women the he’s bought. He start taking all their measurements. Everything from the circumference of their thighs, to the buoyancy of their breasts, to the lengths of their arms, to the shapes of their calves, Jeffrey measures everything.
Unfortunately, there is no one woman who has all the perfect measurements, or the closest approximation of the perfect measurements. So, now, he’s in a bit of a pickle. He needs to choose one to have more time with, but he can’t choose between them. When he is pressed about the money he throws the girls the bag that has his envelope of cash in it, but it also has the super drugs in it. To which one of the girls recognizes it for exactly what it is.
Clearly this creates a bad situation for Jeffrey. The super drugs were only for the girl he chose to hire. The problem, is that all these girls are disasters hooked on crack. They immediately break it out to smoke some. They turn on some rock and roll to party some more with the crack. Jeffrey exclaims, “Oh no! The Devil’s music!” He warns them that the super drugs and the devil’s music is probably making them do things they shouldn’t do – including making out with each other. He begs them to not do anymore or they’ll die.
Sure enough… One of the girls explodes from the super drugs. Then another. And another and so on. There are pieces of hookers everywhere!
Meanwhile, Zorro is pissed his bitches haven’t come back downstairs at the seedy hotel yet. He thinks Jeffrey is taking him for a ride. Zorro breaks into the room just in time for one of the hooker’s heads to explode off her body and fly toward the pimp and knock him out.
In a room full of body parts, Jeffrey apologizes for the accident with the super drugs. He promises to make it all better and to fix them, so he collects all the body parts with trash bags, then tosses the bags off the fire escape. He drives back to Jersey with a trunk full of hooker parts. As the storm gets closer, he works to put together Elizabeth. He’s got some hands. He’s got a shopping cart full of legs and feet. He’s even got a box of torsos. Best yet, he’s got a pile of boobs that he has to rifle through and match.
I cannot properly express in the proper context how wonderful the little jokes are in this movie, nor can I give you them their proper due in this article. Some of it is simply Henenlotter’s direction and decisions in editing. Some of the joy of watching this movie comes from broader jokes like exploding hookers and flying heads that bonk pimps and dropping Elizabeth’s head and hearing things rattle around inside it right before he pieces her back together. The true comedy of this movie, for me at least, come in the form of the little things. The news report and how the anchor describes Elizabeth and the accident or the hookers calling the crack “SUPER DRUGS!” are two of those situations that stand out.
However, by far, everything works so damn well because of James Lorinz. He is singlehandedly piloting this movie. He has nervous neurotic ticks in his personality. He’s always talking to himself or mumbling under his breath. His accent is thick and makes that tick of always saying something that much more noticeable and funnier. It killed me when he was being introduced to the girls before he started measuring their features. He was being introduced one girl at a time, and he had some sort of different greeting for each one. It is amazing. I don’t know if it was something that was in the script or done on set or if it was done afterwards. Whatever it was, it was spot on perfect. It showed that Jeffrey is not just insecure and kind of dorky, but also reveals his more small town sensibilities as well as his nervousness over what he must do. He is simply perfect in this movie.
The storm arrives and Jeffrey starts turning everything on. He lifts Elizabeth on the table up through the hole in the roof of the garage. Lightning doesn’t just hit the device that is designed to give Elizabeth life, but it comes down into the garage and strikes the freezer that the hookers’ other body parts are being kept in the purple goo of his.
When Jeffrey brings the table back down, Elizabeth is standing on top of the table. When pulls the sheets off her, she’s seemingly alive, looking around and trying to understand what’s going on. When Jeffrey tries to talk to her, all she can say is to shout, “WANNA DATE? NEED A LITTLE ACTION? GOT ANY MONEY?”
Jeffrey says he doesn’t have any money, so she slaps him and escapes while he’s knocked out on the floor. People on the subway think that Elizabeth is diseased because she’s kind of this weird looking conglomerate of different skin types. Jeffrey figures out that she’s this way because she is essentially made up of hookers. Jeffrey drives to the city while she walks around New York City asking anyone and everyone if they want a date or if they have any money.
She finds a john who will go back to the same hotel that all her pieces exploded in earlier. She can only really speak in things that each of the hookers had said previously. When she starts sexing up the john, he begins to smoke. Soon, he more or less explodes as if he got a hit of those super drugs from earler.
I love that the movie posits the idea that Elizabeth isn’t able to think for herself. Her mind should still be hers, but the rest of the body is doing all the thinking for her. Patty Mullen is just as good as Lorinz. Her delivery of all the hooker lines in the high pitch yells are amazing. There are so many quotable lines that she just shouts out. It’s kind of amazing she didn’t do anything more after this. Her timing and delivery is spot on. She seriously could have made an entire career out of doing comedies after this, but… she just stopped acting. She does have a fairly active Instagram where she talks about living in New York City, shares quick hits of positive vibes with fans, and talks about her two daughters. She seems content enough doing that and is still a draw at various conventions, and that’s good.
I still like to think what she might have been able to do after this with the comedic timing she shows in this movie.
Elizabeth ends up in a bar that just so happens to be where Zorro is visiting and commiserating over the loss of his bitches. Outside, Jeffrey hears a wino with a bible preaching about a woman and knowing a whore when you see her smoking whatever, and Jeffrey knows this guy’s seen Elizabeth. He tells her that she’s in the bar. Zorro approaches Elizabeth and starts trying to get info about who she is and where she got that arm (yes, he says, “This isn’t your arm!”). She pushes him, and he punches her which almost knocks her block off.
Jeffrey gets Elizabeth and brings her home. He staples her head back on and puts a couple bolts on the sides of her neck. It doesn’t seem to work at first, but Elizabeth wakes up and realizes that the last thing she remembers is the lawnmower coming at her. He tells her that she died and he brought her back. She initially feels proud of Jeffrey, but soon realizes that she has a completely different body. He tells her what he had to do to bring her back and that he loves her and they can spend the rest of their lives together.
That turns out to be a short time as Zorro sneaks in and decapitates Jeffrey. Zorro plans to reclaim his bitches but the various body parts that were the hookers attack. Their body parts have fused together with their heads in the purple goo. They attack Zorro and pull him into the freezer to his doom.
Elizabeth saves Jeffrey, but because his notes on how this process would work only takes into account female bodies and hormones, she had to put his head on the body of a woman. They will be together forever now, but Jeffrey’s horrified of the monster he’s become.
Frankenhooker is a marvelous horror comedy from a master of these low budget, lighthearted monster movies. There is no part that doesn’t feel like it doesn’t fit together in this movie. Like finding the perfect pieces to rebuild Elizabeth, Henenlotter was able to perfectly balance comedy, drama, and a touch of horror (especially with the fused together hooker parts that come back for Zorro). Be it this or Basket Case, or Brain Damage, this guy just understands that sometimes you need the entertainment and the sick stuff ahead of anything else. That is not me saying that he doesn’t hold “the other stuff” to a certain standard, but it helps generally build this motif of all these indie and gorehound sensibilities into damn entertaining movies.
To borrow a pull quote from one of my very best of friends, “If you only see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER!”
Next time around, we start a brand new month and it’s getting to be back to school time in the United States. So, since I’m an old fart who shouldn’t be going back to school, I CAN do some further education another way… by going to NIGHT SCHOOL! I’ll be looking at that early 80s slasher that I have a vague memory of it once being on TV quite a bit in my childhood. Get your schedules, pick up your books, and I’ll see you in the classroom come August 6!
While you wait for that to happen next Friday, how about you go to Facebook to follow the B-Movie Enema page? You also need to get onto Twitter and follow B-Movie Enema there as well. You should definitely know by now that B-Movie Enema’s YouTube Channel is where it’s at for both clips that I use here in the articles as well as episodes of B-Movie Enema: The Series. We’re only a handful of weeks away from the start of Season #2 so subscribe and get ready for those new episodes!
See you all back here in a week, my dear Enemaniacs!