Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Frankenstein Month: 'Frankenhooker' (1990)

Not surprisingly, Frankenhooker, from cult exploitation filmmaker Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage), does not stick very closely to Mary Shelley's original Frankenstein story. Its main character is a mad scientist of sorts, and he does create a monster out of recycled body parts. But the movie isn't remotely serious or scary, instead focused on grossing out its audience and maximizing the exposure of female flesh. It's an exploitation movie, obviously, designed for video-store shelves and late-night airings on premium cable (I watched it on Showtime), and in that sense it succeeds. Henenlotter even manages to add some genuine humor to the twisted story, putting the movie at a slightly higher level than plenty of its forgotten Z-movie peers (there's a reason it's still on Showtime in 2016).

James Lorinz is amusing as Jeffrey Franken, a failed medical student working as an electrical engineer and living in his mother's suburban New Jersey home, a sort of modern-day version of Victor Frankenstein on his family's European estate. When Jeffrey's fiancee Elizabeth Shelley (Patty Mullen) is killed in a freak lawnmower accident, he becomes determined to resurrect her, but since most of her was mutilated beyond recognition, he decides to gather spare parts from hookers. His plan doesn't make a whole lot of sense, since he seems to both want to murder the hookers (with a batch of "super crack" that basically causes them to explode) and not harm them at all. He's a clearly unhinged maniac (he drills into his own skull for fun) and a love-sick sad sack who gets very distraught when a whole group of hookers grab his super crack and all end up dead.

The movie's plot is nonsensical, but there are funny bits in the margins, especially the deadpan news report about Elizabeth's demise, and the understated reactions to Jeffrey's experiments. The hookers are frequently in various states of undress, but the grotesque nature of Jeffrey's experiments negates a lot of the potential sexiness. Any teenage boy renting this movie for salacious purposes would end up with some seriously mixed-up feelings (or develop some new fetishes). With a small budget, Henenlotter creates some disturbing creatures for the climax, when the dismembered hooker parts come together to form horrifying monsters.

Obviously the portrayal of hookers is silly and unrealistic, but Henenlotter does capture the unique scuzziness of Times Square in the late 1980s, a New York City landmark filled equally with tourists and lowlifes. Jeffrey is a bit of both, a sort of pervert with a heart of gold, using his deranged methods for the sweet goal of bringing back his beloved. In the end, those methods turn against him, and his horrific outside finally resembles his twisted inside.

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