Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Frankenhooker
Medical schools upset me, mother – I’m anti-social – I’m becoming dangerously amoral.
Jarv’s Rating: 3 Changs out of 4. Fucking hilarious, grade-A piece of schlock. A wickedly stupid premise, with enough laughs to keep the average schlock-hound in hysterics almost the entire time and enough twisted ideas to keep psychoanalysts extremely busy.
Frank Henenlotter needs more work. Honestly, I know this sounds daft, but the man has made only 10 films- of which the 5 that I’ve seen with one exception are all absolutely brilliant pieces of hilarious schlock. This is the man who unleashed the crazed Siamese twin Belial on the world in the stupendous Basket Case trilogy, thereby introducing humanity to the extremely funny idea of mutant rubber sex. Alright, the third Basket Case one was a bit of a stinker, being about Mutant Rubber Obstetrics, but despite not getting anywhere near the level of the first two, it was so gleefully inventive that it was extremely likable. Frankenhooker was made around about the same time as the 2 Basket Case sequels in 1990, and I can honestly say that I haven’t enjoyed a piece of trash as much as this in a hell of a long time.
Where to begin, where to begin….
James Lorinz plays Jeffrey Franken. Jeffrey is a medical school dropout who lives in New Jersey with his mother, goes out with chubby girl Elizabeth (Patty Mullen- a real shame that she didn’t do more), and conducts bizarre bio-electrical experiments on human body parts. The film, actually, opens with him prodding at a brain with an eye sitting in a bizarre purple soup. Despite the fact that Jeffrey quite clearly needs locking up under Section 8 of the Mental Health Act, his friends, family, and neighbours all seem to be remarkably tolerant of his, er, quirks. One day, at a party for Elizabeth’s father, tragedy strikes when his portly beloved is shredded in a bizarre lawnmower accident. Jeffrey, understandably, doesn’t take this particularly well. In fact, I’d argue that he takes it particularly badly, seeing as his reaction is to steal her head and put it in his freezer full of purple soup.
This starts the clock ticking on our less-than-intrepid hero. There’s a major electrical storm coming in less than two days, and Jeffrey has to assemble body parts to re-animate his beloved. So, with no further ado, it’s off to Times Square for our Jeffrey carrying little more than a doctor’s outfit and a massive bag full of Supercrack (hehehehehe). What follows next is one of the most singularly amusing scenes that I’ve seen, which I’ll go into in a moment, before Jeffrey manages to reassemble and re-animate the dead chubster. However, Jeffrey didn’t think things out properly, and Elizabeth is now FRANKENHOOKER and goes on a one woman rampage killing people in the city with her electricity emitting vagina. I won’t spoil the end, as it’s brilliant and I didn’t see it coming, but needless to say, things don’t turn out so well for our Jeffrey.
First things first, this is an extremely goofy little film. Jeffrey is madder than a box of frogs, and has several serious severe personality flaws. For example, he inserts a drill into his own brain to whizz things up a wee bit when he’s searching for inspiration. Personally, I would imagine that a self-lobotomy like this would have the exact opposite effect, but weirdly Jeffrey does manage to come up with some ideas while doing it. Secondly, he’s a man who struggles to let go of things. There’s a frankly hilarious scene early on where he sits down for dinner opposite the decapitated head of his beloved. This honestly has to be seen to be believed, because it is one of the more legitimately funny scenes from Schlock that I’ve seen in a long while. James Lorinz plays this brilliantly. He comes across as a sort of Andrew McCarthy type, but plays the role completely straight and as a result he’s absolutely hilarious. Patty Mullen is also superb as Elizabeth/ Frankenhooker (even if the fat suit is obvious) displaying a surprising gift for physical comedy, and (importantly) not afraid to make herself look foolish on camera. The rest of the support is inconsequential, but note must go to Joseph Gonzalez as the Pimp Zorro. He’s very funny as well- even if a bit hapless.
The writing, however, is surprisingly sharp. Frankenhooker is played as a farce for the most part, and the script reflects this. The Newscast after Elizabeth’s death is a superb tongue-in-cheek parody of the usual po-faced reporting that you hear after a tragedy with this line in particular being downright hilarious:
the vivacious young girl was instantly reduced to a tossed human salad… a salad that police are still trying to gather up… a salad that was once named Elizabeth.
Honestly, how is that not funny? Furthermore, you won’t see the ending coming, and it is well worth the wait, but even if you do, there are a lot of standout scenes along the way that have to be seen to be believed. In particular, the simply magical scene where the hookers get their grubby little mitts on Jeffrey’s Supercrack which prompts them all to explode. I haven’t laughed as hard at a scene as I did at this one in a long time. It’s brilliantly set up, with Jeffrey buying some crack of Zorro, then synthesising it in his lab/ garage, before testing it on a Guinea Pig (yup, it goes bang), but even then the carnage wrought on the prostitutes is absolutely priceless.
Henenlotter has to take the credit for how purely entertaining this film is. The direction is assured, and the film whips along at a right old pace. Once again, New York and New Jersey form a brilliant back drop for his antics- the supporting characters are well conceived, and the streets have a pitch-perfect grimy feeling to them. There’s never a dull moment, because there isn’t enough time for a dull moment and Henenlotter manages to ably fill the slight run time with enough entertainment that it’s almost possible to forget the pretty flimsy premise. Almost.
And this is where the problems start. Frankenhooker is a tremendously enjoyable slice of schlocky goodness, but it’s also a one-joke premise. The problems, actually, all occur in the last third of the film, the post re-animation sequence. It’s mildly amusing for a while watching Elizabeth lurching around the place, but unfortunately her antics do start to get a bit tiresome. Henenlotter was clearly aware of this, actually, so rushes towards the conclusion as fast as he can because he knows that Frankenhooker accidentally electrocuting punters with her vagina is a joke that wears thin very fucking quickly. It’s not boring, but it comes mighty close to being tiresome- particularly when you’ve just witnessed a room full of exploding crack-whores. The other problem, and it’s one that plagues the movie, is that there’s an enormous level of suspension of disbelief required. Jeffrey has a garage full of equipment NASA would be proud of, you have to ignore that nobody is worried about his obsession with playing with body parts, and finally, for the joke to work you have to blindly accept that men would be hopelessly attracted to a woman made up of bad stitching, mismatched body-parts, purple nipples, different coloured skin tones whose face keeps twisting up alarmingly. If you can’t accept this, then the last third of the film doesn’t work. Simple as that.
Overall, this is a stomping film. Hugely entertaining and a flat-out perfect candidate for Drunken Cinema. There’ s boob (not very nice boob admittedly), stupidity by the boatload, and enough intention comedy to keep many a drunken fool in stitches. I absolutely do recommend this one, in terms of sheer enjoyment, Frankenhooker can hold it’s dismembered head up high and proudly pimp-slap those lesser schlock artists out there.
Until next time,