*** Originally published on Beyond the Marquee, 04/24/12 ***
Hey Doc, let me ask you a question: Do you remember the 1980′s? Remember how science and computers were all the rage? You didn’t have to know anything about how either one worked, but you could create beautiful women or launch a global nuclear war with just a couple of keystrokes and a modem that knew how to dial anything. It was a time of fantasy, greenlighted by coked up Hollywood execs and paid for by horny teenagers at the local drive-in. God, I miss those days. Thankfully, the other night I took home “Frankenhooker” (available now from Synapse Films) and got my twisted 80′s fix. *It should be noted that while Beyond the Marquee does not encourage the use of illegal narcotics, watching this movie might make you feel like you’ve just smoked crack.*
The story, of course, is a twist on Mary Shelley’s classic tale of reanimation. Med school failure / amateur scientist Jeffrey Franken (played by the surprisingly good James Lorinz) is at a family cookout when a lawnmower he invented accidentally turns his fiancee, Elizabeth (Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen), into mulch. Able to salvage the head, he decides to bring her back to life. Unfortunately, the rest of her is shredded on the lawn, so he’s going to need a few new parts. That’s where our ladies of the night come in. Since all hookers obviously love to get high, Jeffrey creates a “super crack” which makes the user spontaneously combust. He then finds a pimp named Zorro (Joseph Gonzales) who’s so full of testosterone, he’s practically a walking testicle and arranges to “play doctor” with several of the pimp’s best women. Unbeknownst to Zorro, this John is just window shopping for appendages and after choosing the best parts from each woman, he lets them indulge in his deadly dope. Now, picking up the remains, he’s able to reanimate his dead lover with a new and improved (albeit stitched up) frankenbody. However, Elizabeth 2.0 isn’t quite the woman he loved and Jeffrey now has one very angry pimp on his trail.
For the most part, the acting is lousy, the story is ludicrous and the effects are (intentionally) cheesy… but all of those things are overrated, don’t you think? Director/Co-writer Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage) treats us to a dark and cartoony vision that’s nothing if not unique and certainly never boring. With its meager 2.5 million dollar budget (but looking like it cost twice as much), “Frankenhooker” is delightfully irrevereant, wildly comical and an all-around blast to watch. But if you come into this movie expecting realism of any sort, you’re going to be sorely and rightfully disappointed. Just read the title and enjoy the ride.
Synapse has again delivered another beautiful Blu-Ray. They say this new 2K high definition transfer was made from original vault materials and there’s no reason to doubt them. Though produced in 1989 (released in ’90), “Frankenhooker” looks better than many contemporary movies of this caliber partially because it was shot on 35mm instead of video. The end result is a completely clean picture with no artifacting and just enough grain to have that genuine movie theater feel. Like many films of the era, neon lights abound and they haven’t looked this good since they were projected nearly twenty five years ago… if they even looked this good back then.
There’s the original audio in 2.0 as well as a digitally remastered 5.1 track, both in DTS-HD. While each option is crystal clear, the only advantage to the 5.1 track is an added depth for occasional ambient sounds and only some of the music. The dialogue and many of the sound effects sound like they’re being pushed through the front speakers with room tone filling the other channels. It opens things up a little throughout the film, but it’s nothing to go crazy for. The surround mix really gets showcased during the lightning storm where Jeffrey brings his work to life, but beyond that one scene I could take or leave the 5.1 track. It’s not the worst I’ve heard, but it won’t exactly whisk you away into that world of sewn-up strumpets – know what I mean, Doc?
The disc has a good number of bonus features on it, though they’re recycled from a previous DVD edition. Like any release worth its salt, both the theatrical trailer and a really great commentary track are included. Henenlotter (sounding much like a caffeinated Quentin Tarantino) and Make-Up Effects Designer Gabe Bartalos discuss the making of the film like two good friends reminiscing on old times. Occasionally, they’ll go off on some crazy tangents (prostitutes with “crack elbow” or floating penitentiaries) but there’s lots of great information packed in here and it goes down smooth. “Frankenhooker” herself, Patty Mullen, has her own little featurette titled “A Salad That Was Once Named Elizabeth” where she answers questions about her experiences on set as well as her current life and projects. It’s hard to believe, but she’s grown more beautiful with age despite this particular extra being shot on some cruddy looking video. Then again, she’s also not under 20 pounds of make-up. Jennifer Delora, one of the hookers who’s on screen for all of about five minutes, provides a photo scrapbook (with her personal commentary) and a featurette where she “remembers” the film. Here she does little other than trash talk the main actor and give backhanded compliments to her co-stars. You can tell she truly views herself as a superstar, but this woman is one of the most obnoxious wannabes ever given the chance to star in a Blu-Ray bonus feature. However, I found myself glued to this featurette (about four times longer than her actual screen time) because I just couldn’t stop laughing at her ridiculousness. I’m almost positive the filmmakers threw this in with a bit of a smirk. Gabe Bartalos also has a bonus feature titled “A Stitch in Time”. Here we get an inside look at his make-up effects on “Frankenhooker” with behind the scenes footage and a 2006 interview at Dennis Hof’s Bunny Ranch. If you’re interested in movie make-up, you’ll find this twenty minute bonus to be a real gem.
Overall, I give this one 3 out of 4 devils. The extras are mediocre, but the movie’s a good time. Many of these films start with one great idea and never get past the novelty of it. Here, the sexually charged, fractured fairy tale gimmick succeeds with its colorful, over-the-top cast of characters and consistently cheesy feel. It’s camp comedy at its finest. If you’re a fan of bizarre movies in the vein of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “The Toxic Avenger”, you’ll want to make a date with “Frankenhooker”. Tell her Malone said “hi.”