The films of Frank Henenlotter are not for everyone. I wouldn't call them an acquired taste because I think most people have a visceral reaction to them that defines how they feel about movies like BASKET CASE without any deep thought getting in the way. I think this reaction is mainly because, as much as they appear on the surface to be horror films, Henenlotter's movies are actually comedies. Anyone who has ever tried to recommend a funny film to someone can tell you that the hardest genre to get two people to agree about is comedy. If you don't find something or someone funny there is nothing anyone else can do to get you to appreciate the humor of, say- The Three Stooges. You either laugh at the eye-poke or you don't. In the same way, if the sight of a talking parasite that feeds its host a narcotic for carrying out its homicidal requests doesn't strike you as amusing then Henenlotter's second film BRAIN DAMAGE is not for you. And, by extention, I can say that this means your reaction to any one of his movies will tell you if you'll like all of them. None of them are going to ever be called the best filmmaking the world has to offer but his energy, inventiveness, humor and warped sense of the way the world works marks Henelotter as one of the best kinds of American auteur - the truly independent kind!
FRANKENHOOKER was the writer/director's fourth film and appears to have had a higher budget than the first three combined. This extra cash is clearly onscreen from the beginning with a very professional look to the production that, to 21st century eyes, seems to simultaneously improve and date the movie a bit more than earlier efforts. This movie is an unashamed product of the late 1980s and only a story as over-the-top as this could make that a good thing. The fashions alone make FRANKENHOOKER an embarrassing time capsule of hideousness - and then the sewed together hooker beast shows up and the madness goes into the stratosphere!
Obviously based loosely on the classic Mark Shelly novel the film tells the sad story of misunderstood inventor and part-time medical student Jeffery Franken. After his modified lawn mower accidentally reduces his fiancée to a pile of veal cutlets Jeffery's grief is so great that he vows to bring his beloved back to life. As he has only been able to salvage her head he will need to find her a fresh or semi-fresh body for attachment. Now, where would you look for a female that wouldn't be missed by too many people? That's right- Time's Square in the 80s was packed to the gutters with prostitutes of every description so its there our mad doctor goes with a stethoscope, a tape measure and a plan. That his plan involves his rather dangerous new invention Super-Crack might not seem too bad an idea- what Time's Square prostitute is going to turn down free drugs . But the fact that this drug has the terrible side effect of making the user literally explode doesn't factor into Jeffery's thinking until he's standing in a room filled with random hooker parts wondering which pieces he should salvage. Needless to say, our hero eventually fashions a serviceable woman out of the bits but things don't go quite the way he would have wished.
If you can get on this movie's wavelength it is an extremely funny tale. As already mentioned Henelotter's movies are cock-eyed horror comedies and that makes them harder to appreciate than the average low budget horror film or low budget comedy. I suspect that only horror fans with a taste for low brow humor will be able to get past the first 20 minutes and discover the real cleverness at the heart of this mad scientist love story. The story is filled with real wit, amusing observations and a cast of colorful characters that make predicting what will happen next almost impossible. The film is over the top and completely insane in a ways that defy easy categorization. What other movie features a stitched together woman turning tricks in an hysterically robotic manner like some fantasy blow-up doll in the middle of a story punctuated by touching scenes of its main character reciting love poetry to his dead girlfriend? The film is strange- maybe stranger than it needs to be- but I really enjoyed it and if the idea of a man filing a bunion off a foot he's about to attach to his beloved's new body causes a grin for you, so be it. I'm tempted to chant 'One of Us' repeatedly.
Synapse Films has issued FRANKENHOOKER on Blu-Ray with all the love you could hope for. The film print was taken from original vault materials and is presented in gorgeous widescreen with both 5.1 and 2.0 audio options. I had never seen the movie before this disc arrived but I can't imagine it looked this good in earlier incarnations. The picture is bright with colors that really pop, especially in the neon lit scenes shot on location in New York. The Blu comes with lots of great extras as well starting with a commentary track featuring Henenlotter and his Make-Up Effects Designer Gabe Bartalos. The writer/director does most of the talking, as he should, and proves to be just as entertaining in this venue as he is as a filmmaker. His tales of the madness involved in shooting around crack houses and only semi-legally are a hoot. I would hope he is given the chance to do similar tracks for all of his work. The other extras include a short interview with the mighty Frankenhooker herself, Patty Mullen called A SALAD THAT WAS ONCE NAMED ELIZABETH; the featurette A STITCH IN TIME: THE MAKE-UP EFFECTS OF FRANKENHOOKER and TURNING TRICKS, an interview with actress Jennifer Delora and her time spent as a cinema 'hooker'. Miss Delora is very funny relating he attitude toward doing onscreen nudity at the time and I was glad that she was given another short piece to show off her photo scrapbook from the production. This unexpected peek behind the scenes is a blast. The film's theatrical trailer rounds thing out and the case comes with a reversible cover sporting alternate promotional art. What more could a horror hound wish for?