Frankenhooker. Film Review


Arrow Video

Starring: James Lorinz, Joanne Ritchie, Patty Mullen

Directed by: Frank Henenlotter

Rating: 15

Duration: 81 mins

Reviewed by Guy Adams

We’re back in Arrow Film’s fleapit, a theoretical dive they should be lauded for building and one that I always look forward to visiting (though, dear Lord, don’t eat the hot dogs, the meat is poison and they wriggle like fat men’s fingers beckoning you into a dark alley).

This time we’re in the company of Frank Henenlotter, the exuberant lunatic that brought us Basket Case and Brain Damage. He’s all over this release, introducing the movie (alongside star James Lorinz) as well as fleshing out the making of the film in a forty minute documentary from Calum Waddell. He makes it clear that it was a hellish movie to make, fraught with arguments and tensions on set. Born out of a desperate pitch, in producer James Glickenhaus’ office, when asked for other ideas. He made it up as he went along, distressed when the notes were read back to him that he had painted himself into an unfilmable corner.

You can see his problem. On paper Frankenhooker must have seemed impossible. On screen it still does, one of those movies where you glance around in concern making sure you haven’t had your cup of tea spiked by the cats again (‘Am I really watching this? Did this film actually get made by real people?).

The story of a lunatic who wishes to rebuild his girlfriend after a lawnmower accident, seeking parts in the red light district. That potted synopsis – and it’s all you’re going to get – makes the movie sound relatively sane, just another exploitation potboiler. No. You only think that because you haven’t watched the scene where the Super Crack takes effect yet. Later, on the other side of watching Frankenhooker, you’ll realise that my description summed up the experience about as much as saying Silence of the Lambs involves fashion design.

It works though. Precariously, yes, and in constant danger of falling off its scarlet heels into the gutter and making a mess of itself. You’ll likely never see a comedy in such poor taste again and it’s representation of prostitutes as crack addicted, money-grabbing harridans might be uncomfortable were it not for the fact that Henenlotter is an equal-opportunity fiend and everyone is presented as similarly grotesque.

What saves it all is its unfettered excess, it’s eighty minutes of shock and awe and frequently genuinely funny. Had it been less of an all-out attack on our sensibilities its individual moments might have floundered. But, after a while, when someone keeps smacking you in the face with a baseball bat you end up appreciating the strength of their swing as much as bemoaning how many teeth you have left.

Anchored by Lorinz’s central performance – a masterclass in how to play this sort of madness straight – he is ably supported by Patty Mullen as his jigsaw of a girlfriend. Both run headlong at their parts and relish every absurd moment, therefore so do we.

I suspect there’s nothing I could say to convince someone to watch this movie, you’re either onboard already or so disgusted you’ll never look me in the eye again. Still, surprise yourself, you’ll certainly never have seen anything quite like it and Arrow’s package is an excellent presentation.