When his doting fiancee Elizabeth (Penthouse pet Patty Mullen) is torn to pieces in a bizarre lawnmower accident on her father’s birthday, creepy home-tutored doctor Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) takes it upon himself to reassemble her body. But with the storm necessary to power his machines to bring her to life coming in two days, he’s short on body parts and needs a quick fix. The solution – prostitutes. Welcome to Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker (1990).
The set-up for Frankenhooker is pretty solid, and the film is surprisingly good fun. Unlike so many films which Arrow releases, there’s no childish sense of ‘so bad it’s good’. The plotting might be thin and stroll head-first into every cliche there is, but the overblown, pop-comic book colour aesthetic is bright and inviting on this impressive transfer, the special effects – most striking in the ‘exploding hooker party’ scene – are stupidly funny, and the performances are rightfully over-the-top. Particularly watchable are Joseph Gonzalez as meat-head pimp Zorro, all muscle, muscle, and more muscle, and Lorinz, who spends a huge amount of the film talking to himself, a difficult challenge which he meets with aplomb.
Once he is able to piece Elizabeth together, she becomes the Frankenhooker, the pieces of prostitute from which she’s constructed taking her on a tour of the seedy New York streets. Jeffrey’s search for her leads to a genuinely unexpected and grotesque closing scene, and you feel you’ve got your money’s worth.
The effects, though far from spectacular, are pretty impressive and are treated well by the HD transfer. (One of the strange ironies of Blu-ray is its ability to make analogue special effects look all the better, as in the case of John Carpenter’s The Thing , while very often making visible the cracks in digital effects). The special features are extensive and generally interesting, most especially the looks into the make-up and effects work.
It might well be due to the unknown nature of Frankenhooker in relation to earlier Arrow releases that the quality of its picture and sound is so good, as the prints haven’t had the circulation and degradation of more popular films. However, it remains a very solid piece of work, with plenty of laughs and an admirable tendency to avoid a post-1970s ironic look at exploitation cinema. It’s by no means the goriest or most explosive film ever – for those looking for something more extreme, Frankenhooker’s closest relative would be Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985) – but for what it is, there’s little to complain about.