When his remote-control lawnmower birthday gift accidentally slices and dices his spacey fiancee Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) at a birthday party, Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) is distraught. Unable to think straight without his better half (no matter how many times he scratches his brain with a power drill), he rigs up a garage full of equipment ready to harness the lightning provided by an impending storm, with the hopes of bringing her back from the dead. All he needs to complete the puzzle is a new body for his bride-to-be, so he throws on a cheap suit, borrows his mother's car, and begins cruising the city's seediest streets...
Frankenhooker sounds like a hole-in-one. A cheap monster movie with the promise of nudity, ridiculous splatter effects, and an over-the-top sense of humor? Sign me up. Sadly, director/writer Frank Henenlotter never really captures the promise of the movie's premise, spending far more time with Lorinz and his slow build to the big experiment and other random asides than the aftermath of his crazy ideas.
I first heard about Frankenhooker via Andrew Borntreger's badmovies.org. When Jeffrey goes to investigate his hooker idea, he discovers that their pimp, Zorro (Joseph Gonzales) has his girls addicted to crack. So, naturally, he buys a bag and uses science to pump it up into super crack, which turns out to be so potent, anyone who inhales a puff ends up exploding in a shower of sparks and chunks. Borntreger's write-up includes a free clip of a room full of hookers exploding, which is nothing if not a memorable sight. Sadly, this occurs roughly 3/4 of the way through Henenlotter's 85-minute movie -- Jeff hasn't even assembled his replacement girlfriend yet.
If that wasn't bad enough, the resurrected Elizabeth is the highlight of the film thanks to Patty Mullen's goofy performance. Frankenhooker hobbles along with a cheerfully vacant expression on her face, spouting snippets of conversations between Jeffrey and the hookers, pummeling and growling at anyone she talks to who isn't going to line her pocketbook. It's not that Lorenz is bad, per se, just that he's supposed to play the film with a straight face, and spending 60 minutes with the straight man isn't the funniest angle for a comedy.
The film also doesn't make very good use of Louise Lasser, who only has one amusing scene as Jeffrey's kindly mother. It feels like a set-up for another scene, but none ever arrives. I would've also enjoyed seeing more of Charlotte J. Helmkamp as the first lady of the evening to catch Jeff's attention, and a little more of Zorro, if only because he's an emotionally vulnerable pimp named Zorro. Henenlotter's effects are decent, if totally fake-looking (rarely have so many rubber body parts been thrown around in a single movie), but the movie's over-the-top final scenes are basically too little, too late.
Previously, Frankenhooker was a long-awaited DVD release from Unearthed Films. I have no idea what happened to them, but now Synapse has the rights to the film, and have brought it to Blu-Ray and DVD with an all-new remastered presentation. This cover art is a little more eye-catching than the Unearthed version, boasting a clean design and far less use of Times New Roman, while essentially using the same ideas (down to the Bill Murray quote on the front cover). Inside the case, there's also a half-sized flyer for other Synapse releases.
The Video and Audio
I never saw the Unearthed edition of Frankenhooker, but this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation seems pretty fantastic for a low-budget movie approaching its' 25th anniversary. Although the image is soft and therefore lacking in fine detail, colors are strong, general clarity is strong, and there's no print damage. If you get up real close, some aliasing can be seen, but it's a minor quibble.
Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is decent, but hampered by the limitations of low-budget. Dialogue is clear and strong, music is bright and crisp, and sound effects are replicated in all their squishy glory, but there's not much atmosphere going on in the quiet indoor scenes. A thunderstorm picks up the second half of the track, not to mention a whole room full of exploding hookers, but this is a strong track in terms of its accuracy, not the impressive nature of its design. A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also provided, although it's disappointing that Synapse doesn't offer subtitles or closed captioning.
The same old extras that graced previous editions of Frankenhooker are replicated here: an audio commentary by Henenlotter and make-up effects designer Gabe Bartalos, several interview featurettes ("A Salad That Was Once Named Elizabeth: Patty Mullen Remembers Frankenhooker" - 8:48, "A Stitch in Time: The Makeup Effects of Frankenhooker" - 20:55, "Turning Tricks: Jennifer Delora Remembers Frankenhooker" - 19:31, and "Jennifer Delora's Frankenhooker Photo Scrapbook" - 11:21), and the movie's original theatrical trailer.
For me, Frankenhooker is a missed opportunity, but it's also considered a cult classic, so what do I know. For people who are already a fan of this movie, the new transfer might be enough of a reason to upgrade the film, even though the extras included are identical to existing editions. Lightly recommended to the movie's existing audience.
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