5 out of 5
Directed by: Frank Henenlotter
Frankenhooker was, apparently, a nightmare to make for director Frank Henenlotter, mostly concerning squabbles on the set with the crew, requiring Henenlotter to do a lot of the shooting himself, and with a script that had been formulated somewhat on the fly. In front of the camera, though, you can’t tell: from the confidently campy cold open (bride-to-be massacred in runaway lawnmower incident!), to the fact-of-matter way in which mad scientist Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) powerdrills his own skull to free up fresh ideas for his experiments, to the way in which said experiments eventually devolve into delightfully freakish Henenlotter puppetry, ‘Frankenhooker’ is the director’s most flowing flick, never letting up its goofy smile throughout and remaining focused on its glorious B-movieness at all points, without – somehow – sacrificing likeability of its lead.
What’s also especially apparent here, and is something remarked upon by special effects artist Gabe Bartalos in the Arrow-released bluray extras, is how skilled Frank was at not waddling in the muck that could be associated with the exploitation genre. I mean, yes, this is exploitation – we’re dealing with a woman (Patty Mullen) reconstituted from the parts of dead hookers, and the movie isn’t shy about getting its jiggle on – but there’s something oddly respectful about the way the story is pieced together. Franken doubts his pursuits with just the right empathy-baiting tone – he’s fatefully coerced into pursuing the construction of ‘Frankenhooker’ due to hilarious kinda sorta circumstance, thanks to the witfully named ‘supercrack’ drug – and all of the dealings in and with flophouses and with pimps and lingerie-wearing gals takes place in this otherworldly cartoon realm with a Looney Tunes mentality that makes it elicit giggles instead of tsk-tsks. Early on, when it’s shown that the support characters around Jeffrey – his potential stepmom, his fiancee, his own mother – all support his machinations (at the kitchen table, even, tinkering with an eyeball seated in a brain!) it’s clear how much Henenlotter sides with the outsiders; …and then also loves getting his hands dirty with stories that just get ookier and kookier as they go along, pursuing that cartoonish nonsenicality first and foremost, providing Frankenhooker with a conclusion that cleverly / accidentally balances out a “happy” ending with one that also delivers a comeuppance for its jiggly deeds.
Out of the relatively few films with which creator Frank Henenlotter has gifted filmgoers, Frankenhooker is one of his best, showing off a winking sharpness of script and confidence in presentation that casts a mighty shadow o’er its like-minded exploitative peers.
The Arrow release of the film is up to their usual quality, with a great HD look and several fun extras / interviews, some of which are exclusive to this release. (Though bearing in mind that Frank has been talked to about his films many times over the years, so there’s inevitable repetition in the stories he tells.)