Jeffrey (Jim Lorinz) is a young inventor, a self-proclaimed "bio-electrical technician", dedicated to the process of creating new life. His surname, after all, is Franken.
His opening experiment is semi-successful: a brain with a single eye surgically attached to it. Unfortunately Jeffrey’s work is often undermined by the rigmarole of everyday life: an over-protective mother (Louise Lasser), goody-goody girlfriend Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) who incorrectly believes she’s overweight, and a family who share a propensity for hideous suburban parties.
During one such neighbourhood gathering in honour of his father’s birthday, Jeffrey adapts the old guy’s gift – a new lawnmower – with a remote control. However, the party comes to a sticky end when the machine goes out of control and chops Elizabeth into pieces. "She’s just one big jigsaw puzzle", a cop later comments upon the poor girl’s remains.
Jeffrey goes all insular, but soon deduces that the best way to overcome his mourning is to recreate Elizabeth utilising the parts of her that are still in good shape (her head, for example). All he needs are fresh female parts to complete his new creation’s anatomy...
If you haven’t seen FRANKENHOOKER, Jeffrey’s travails in finding suitable body parts – from hookers, naturally – is best left out of this synopsis in order for you to enjoy the madcap developments of the script to their fullest. If you have seen it, you’ll know what to expect ... right up to a nightmarish finale that will surely bring to mind the best work of FX artist John Carl Buechler (although he’s not at work here).
"A terrifying tale of sluts and bolts".
It’s a great tagline. And the film, co-produced by THE EXTERMINATOR filmmaker James Glickenhaus, has a great director in Frank Henenlotter (BASKET CASE; BRAIN DAMAGE).
But, despite its fun aspects and clear devotion to good-time sleaze, FRANKENHOOKER falls short of the greatness it should court.
That’s not to say it should be unduly dismissed. We are, after all, talking about a film in which prostitutes take a variant on crack which encourages them to explode. Starring James Lorinz in his prime. There’s sufficient reason there already to track this one down...
The humour in FRANKENHOOKER always struck me at the time as a little broader, more theatrical than that which is present in either BASKET CASE or BRAIN DAMAGE. And, watching it again now, my opinion hasn’t changed on this matter. It’s almost as if Hennenlotter was consciously hoping to cross over from the grindhouse and in to the mainstream – and his material feels a tad compromised as a result.
Also, FRANKENHOOKER is distinguished from the rest of Henenlotter’s oeuvre by a distinct lack of gore. There are FX aplenty, but they’re largely of the rubbery, bloodless variety. Again, it’s as if the director is ‘glossing up’ and wishing to broaden his audience. Ironically, the subtext in this film is less satisfying than in the aforementioned BASKET CASE or BRAIN DAMAGE – two, arguably more (on the surface) puerile films.
Where FRANKENHOOKER scores highest, then, is in its improved budgetary sheen and the lead performances. Firstly, Henenlotter has never benefited from such attractive and colourful production design before or since. Especially in HD, the film looks fantastic. Then you’ve got Lorinz at his peak, truly sinking his teeth into a substantial comedy role and successfully engaging as the increasingly fraught brain-box lover boy. Mullen exhibits expert comic timing and makes the transition from sweet-natured girl-next-door to psychotic harlot astutely.
The film fits well within Hennenlotter’s canon of body horror films, offering across the board a lighter alternative to the po-faced works of David Cronenberg. But it never quite endears in the same manner as BASKET CASE or BRAIN DAMAGE, and doesn’t even intrigue to the extent that the flawed BAD BIOLOGY does.
Still, it gets by on charm, and provides 80 minutes of innocuous entertainment for those willing to overlook the fact that this is an interesting premise that, alas, doesn’t go anywhere revelatory. Set-piece scenes work well and the pace is pleasingly brisk. Oh, Shirley Stoler’s amongst the cast too – which is always a brilliant thing.
The film is presented uncut in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This being a blu-ray disc, it is – of course – enhanced for 16x9 television sets. The film is presented as a respectably sized MPEG4-AVC file, encoded to 1080p.
Picture quality is staggeringly good for a low budget genre flick of this lineage. Images are smooth without looking like they’ve suffered from undue noise reduction, while colours, flesh-tones and textures hold up well alongside strong compression-free blacks. Arrow score another home run when it comes to providing a highly satisfying HD presentation of a US genre picture (see also THE FUNHOUSE and THE EXTERMINATOR).
English audio comes in a lossless mono track that plays without the hindrance of noise or ill balancing. Similarly, optional English subtitles are well rendered and easy to read.
An animated main menu page is a colourful, bright affair. From there, we get access to a pop-up scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.
Bonus material kicks off with a most welcome chat track from Henenlotter and Lorinz, reminiscing amiably over the film’s making. They share mixed feelings about the actual shoot, and Henenlotter has reservations about some of the end product, but the overall vibe is light and agreeable. It’s a good listen.
Best of the extra features, even more enjoyable than the commentary track on offer, is a 39-minute Making Of featurette entitled "Your Date’s on a Plate".
Henenlotter is vociferous throughout, but we also get good anecdotes from FX artist Gabe Bartalos and a somewhat bloated Lorinz. Fucking hell, James, who ate all the pies?!
Bartalos returns for an exclusive 19-minute tour of his FX lab, recorded specially for this release in April 2011. It’s another worthy watch, despite a handheld recalling of MTV’s "Cribs".
We also get a brief introduction to the film from Lorinz and Henenlotter (34 seconds).
All three of the above extras come in 1080p.
Filling out the disc in standard definition, we also get treated to the movie’s original theatrical trailer, plus trailers for BASKET CASE, BASKET CASE 2 and BRAIN DAMAGE. It would be marvellous if Arrow are considering any of these for the HD Special Edition treatment ...
"A Salad that was once named Elizabeth" is an archive 8-minute interview with Mullen, windowboxed and rather amateurishly shot.
"A Stitch in Time" brings back Bartalos for a windowboxed look at the making of the film’s effects. This makes for an engrossing if poorly filmed 20 minutes.
"Turning Tricks" is a highly valuable 19-minute interview with Jennifer Delora (bit-part hooker) from 2006. Amazingly, she looks hotter now than she did in 1989.
Rounding out this package is Arrow’s customary nice packaging, including reversible artwork (check out the new exclusive effort from esteemed UK artist Graham Humphries), a double-sided fold-out poster and a collector’s booklet – none of which were available to review.
FRANKENHOOKER has been passed uncut with a 15 certificate rating from the BBFC. Judging from pre-release advertisements, the packaging boasts an 18 rating. None of the extra features merit the more restrictive certification: I can only assume it’s due to the opening, gore-soaked Arrow promo reel.
If you’re a fan of FRANKENHOOKER and didn’t buy into Synapse’s region-free US blu-ray, then Arrow’s release (also region free) makes for an extremely tantalising proposition. In fact, taking into account its equally sublime transfer and spiffing extras, I reckon it’s fair to say the Arrow release trumps its Synapse counterpart.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|