Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Film Appreciation - Is There a Doctor in the Whorehouse? Or, Bunions Are a Girl's Best Friend

Guest contributor Daniel Evans assembles some Film Appreciation for Frankenhooker (1990).

Remember that dark, grizzled night when Mary Shelley and Lord Byron all sat down in the basement of an S&M club to listen to the thunder and rain clatter against the roof, smoke some questionable drugs and write scary stories?? No? Well whose crazy idea was Frankenhooker?

An ode to lost love and love regained, Frank Henenlotter presents us with an unusual feast for the senses, a sleazy slice of electric pie, one that glides effortlessly from evergreen gardens surrounded by picket fencing to the lubricated streets, thick with trotting prostitutes, like filthy cattle grazing in a field of graffiti and junk, and pimps, ruling over them with an iron fist. Looking back, through a haze, to the days when exploitation classics ruled the screens, this film, like his earlier Basket Case (1982) clumps together handfuls of plot and throws them together, creating a mosaic of horror and insane comedy.

Jeffrey Franken's (James Lorinz) fiancée Elizabeth Shelley (Patty Mullen) is the unfortunate victim of a lawnmower assault, its flesh gobbling blades turning her into "a tossed human salad". Luckily, he manages to salvage a few precious chunks of her body and starts piecing them together, padding out the missing areas with prime whore meat from the New York streets! Jeffery is a bioelectrotechnician, an expert in home-made tummy tucks and embedding eyeballs into brains (for whatever purpose that serves), he begins to read poetry to the now severed head of Elizabeth over pizza and wine and plots her resurrection. Jeffrey scours the streets for girls, just the right girls, in eternally scarlet bars where the customers are as creaky as the toilet stall doors, and the drugs are stronger than Kentucky moonshine. He ends up with quite a selection, and all for a price not to be sniffed at. Jeffrey, ever the romantic, marks each suitable area, from "buoyant" nipples to stocking wrapped thighs with a tick. Then, in a scene of copious drug usage Trainspotting would be proud of, the giggling congregation of unclothed beauties all party too hard and start... er... exploding all over each other in an orgy of limbs, stiletto heels and fishnet, leaving Franken to pick amongst the gore.

After his lower than low budgeted Basket Case, and the cocaine frozen insanity of Brain Damage (1988) Henenlotter crafted the ultimate mix of comedy and horror in Frankenhooker. The film doesn’t raise the bar in terms of quality (although the special effects are an improvement), but keeps a steady hand on the laughs and the outrageousness, as, sifting through a perilously stacked small mountain of disembodied breasts and rubbing a bunion from a rubbery foot, Franken starts to construct his creation. The night does indeed belong to Elizabeth.

In the greatest tradition of Frankenstein films, (even the lowest budgeted of them), a great electrical storm shocks the jigsawed cadaver to life, before walking on out into the grubby throes of the great unwashed, intent on a "date". Jeffrey follows the trail of carnage she leaves behind and finds her, unfortunately sporting a particularly nasty neck injury courtesy of an angry pimp called Zorro. He escorts her safely home, where he attempts to give her back life, with disastrous and slightly kinky results.

Henenlotter's message throughout, particularly strong in one scene, is drugs are bad. The sweet, sweet rock, as it's called, (or super crack) causes more death in the film than the reawakened Elizabeth and the puffed out pimp put together. Shot in those same beautifully squalid places as Basket Case, but with a more toned down cast of characters, although arm wrestling barmaids and wonky street preachers keep it all thoroughly weird, the performances, especially from Mullen as Elizabeth the lumbering corpse, are tongue in cheek and comedic, but all fit the vibe nicely. A year later came the epic hardcore trilogy of Edward Penishands from director Paul Norman, and you must think, under a much less talented director and with a title as lurid as Frankenhooker, it could've ended up sharing the same murky depths with that... um... fascinating series of films. And at the same time Henelotter crafted a disappointing sequel to Basket Case, before returning in 2008 with the nympho-manic madness that was Bad Biology. As it is, Frankenhooker is a ludicrous probing through the twists and strands of lost love, adding extra appendages to the often told Frankenstein tale, with an urban message and some hilarious set pieces. Now, keeping your lawnmowers at a safe distance, go forth and mingle amongst the marauding population of Frank Henenlotter's universe, you may get a 'shock'.

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