When a pitch meeting with producer James Glickenhaus, director of THE EXTERMINATOR (now available on Blu-ray), landed his latest script, "Insect City" with a hard sell label, even for fans of exploitation cinema, writer/director Frank Henenlotter found himself in a tight spot. Glickenhaus may not have been sold on “Insect City”, but he liked Frank and wanted to work with him, so he asked him to pitch something else. Trouble was Henenlotter didn’t have any other ideas to fall back on. With nothing prepared, Henenlotter began to riff on the idea of an updated homage to THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE, essentially writing FRANKENHOOKER off the cuff. This on the fly script session proved to be a spark of creative genius as Glickenhaus liked the idea so much he green lit the project, along with a sequel to BASKETCASE, on the spot.
When his fiancée (Patty Mullen) is horribly mutilated in a freak lawnmower accident, Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz, STREET TRASH) goes through a grieving process that proves to be every bit as gruesome as the misfortune that befell his would be bride. Unwilling to let go of the memory of his beloved, or her severed head, Jeffrey devises a rather unorthodox method of ensuring that their love will last the test of time. He decides to use his scientific skills, mad as they may be, to reattach and reanimate his fiancée’s severed parts to another body. In order to accomplish such a feat Jeffrey first has to overcome his own moral misgivings of taking another person's life. One quick, do-it-yourself lobotomy later and Jeffrey still finds himself with the problem of finding a female candidate worthy of his ideal, womanly vision. A late night drive down 42nd Street proves to be just what the doctor ordered as Jeffrey finds the local ladies of the night to be a treasure trove of female specimens. Unfortunately, even after extensive field research, Jeffrey is unable to find a prostitute whose proportions match his ideal qualifications. One hooker has the perfect breasts, while another has a pair of legs that are to die for. What’s a mad scientist to do?
Light on blood but awash in body parts and neon colored goo, FRANKENHOOKER is of a rare breed; a horror comedy that works on both levels. While the film is admittedly more comedy than straight horror, Henenlotter, whose previous films include BASKET CASE and BRAIN DAMAGE, is able to intertwine the two in a way that is wholly satisfying and distinctively his own. Frank's fingerprints are all over this film. Just when you think things could not get more demented, they do. Henenlotter doesn’t just kill hookers, he blows them up, in displays befitting a fourth of July bar-b-q. He doesn’t just torment unsuspecting “johns”, he rips their heads off and electrocutes them, and he does so in a way that puts a smile on your face.
While credit should be given to Henenlotter for crafting such a gleefully demented yarn, kudos should also be given to James Lorinz for selling the idea as a whole. It’s hard to imagine any one else being able to pull off such bizarre behavior and dialogue as well as Lorinz. James does a phenomenal job portraying Jeffrey as a sympathetic, yet uniquely twisted individual. You can’t help but feel for the guy. After all, the love of his life was brutally, if not ridiculously, ripped to pieces right in front of his eyes. Lorinz does such a praiseworthy job of selling his characters grief and confusion early on, that by the time he goes on a female body part safari you find yourself rooting for his success, rather than condemning his demented actions. James pretty much caries the picture up until the point Patty Mullen, Penthouse Pet for August 1986 and Pet of the Year in 1988, is brought back to life. From that point on Frankenhooker and her demented exploits on 42nd street take over, leading the viewer to a sleazy and shocking conclusion.
Patty isn’t the only model Frank packed into this production. From beginning to end, FRANKENHOOKER is rife with Playboy playmates and Penthouse pets, including Charlotte J. Helmkamp, who went by the moniker Charlotte Kemp when she was crowned Miss December 1982, Kimberly Taylor, a featured bunny in the December 1988 issue of Playboy and porn star and rapper, Heather Hunter. Other background players of note include Shirley Stoler (THE HONEYMOON KILLERS) as a butch bartender, Henenlotter regular Beverly Bonner (BASKET CASE) as a guest on a Morton Downey, Jr.-esque talk show and Horror Host Zacherley as a TV weatherman.
FRANKENHOOKER has steadily made its way through the ever evolving home video formats, beginning with its released on VHS through Shapiro Glickenhaus Home Video in 1990, infamous for its talking box. The film then made its way onto laser disc and later DVD through both Simitar and Unearthed Films. Thanks to the fine folks at Synapse Film, the film is now available on Blu-ray and looks, and sounds, better than ever! The film is presented in AVC encoded widescreen (1.78.1) 1080p High-Definition transfer, taken from original vault elements. Compared to previous releases the film is brighter, cleaner and features an all around crisper image. It is the clarity and brightness of the colors that really highlight the improvement in picture quality and reason enough to upgrade with this release. Sound is on hand in both DTS-HD MA English 5.1 surround and DTS-HD MA English 2.0 Stereo.
Extras, ported over from the Unearthed Films release, include an audio commentary with Henenlotter and make-up effects designer, Gabe Bartalos. Henenlotter dominates the conversation, regaling tales of the films aforementioned inception, the trials and tribulations of filming in and around crack houses and the late night sound editing sessions which lead to actor Bill Murray singing the film's praises. Other extras include A SALAD THAT WAS ONCE NAMED ELIZABETH (an interview with Frankenhooker herself, Patty Mullen), A STICH IN TIME: THE MAKE-UP EFFECTS OF FRANKENHOOKER and TURNING TRICKS, a look back with actress Jennifer Delora and her time spent as a “hooker”. Jennifer shows up again in another featurette to show off her Polaroid collection. The shots showcase a fun and nudity laced behind-the-scenes look at the film's production. The film's theatrical trailer and a reversible cover, with alternate art, round out this release's special feature. (Jason McElreath)
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