Review: Frankenhooker (1990)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #727

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: June 1, 1990
Sub-Genre: Comedy/Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $2,500,000
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Producer: James Glickenhaus
Screenplay: Robert Martin, Frank Henenlotter
Special Effects: Gabriel Bartalos
Cinematography: Robert M. Baldwin
Score: Joe Renzetti
Editing: Kevin Tent
Studios: Levins-Henenlotter, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment
Distributors: Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, Arrow Video (Blu-Ray)
Stars: James Lorinz, Patty Mullen, Joanne Ritchie, Paul-Felix Montez, Joseph Gonzalez, Greg Martin, J.J. Clark, Carissa Channing, Shirl Bernheim, Judy Grafe, Helmar Augustus Cooper, Heather Hunter, Louise Lasser, Charlotte J. Helmkamp, Lia Chang, Kimberly Taylor

Suggested Audio Jukebox

[1] Oingo Boingo “Weird Science”

[2] Joe Renzetti “Frankenhooker”

[3] Joe Renzetti “Looking For Hookers”

[4] Thomas Dolby “She Blinded Me With Science”

[5] The 69 Eyes “Frankenhooker”

If there’s one thing the world needs more of, then that would be mad scientists. Granted, they may have a tendency to slaughter unsuspecting victims and chop them up into iddy-biddy pieces to acquire their spare parts, but they’re usually kind enough to subtract only the very dregs of society and, once that bolt of lightning strikes, a fresh life has been granted. Death has been known to come knocking when we least expect it so it’s nice to have mad scientists on hand, just in case your loved ones perish. Should instructions be heeded and all limbs placed in the correct configuration, then a tiny thing like ceasing to exist need never be a problem again. On paper, at any rate.

So who’s up for a spot of harmless experimentation? You see, if you fused Mary Shelley’s head to the body of John Hughes, then I’m reasonably certain you’d come up with a movie not entirely dissimilar to Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker. The legendary cult filmmaker basically takes one part Frankenstein, two Weird Science, and tosses in a few sprinkles of his own B-grade seasoning for good measure – et voilà. IT’S ALIVE!!!

Henenlotter’s test tube baby arrived on the tail end of something fast approaching a hot streak as both his 1982 debut Basket Case and similarly deranged 1988 second stab Brain Damage had managed to attain themselves cult status and earned him quite the reputation for plummeting to the very depths of human decency.

In Belial and Aylmer, Henenlotter’s mental vagina had birthed two of the most dimensionally challenged characters in eighties cinema and topping this unlikely feat would take a tale of truly Gothic origins. Belial was pretty much the body part equivalent of chewed up, spat out and trodden down bubblicious, while Aylmer curiously resembled a turd that had been dipped in toxic waste.

One resided in a wicker basket, the other the rear of his host’s shirt collar – but both raised hell most merry in equal measures and it was impossible not to love ’em. With his cranial conductor firmly in place, he scourged that wonderfully warped imagination for possible successors and, after a little pensive chin stroking and, I’d imagine, a few blotters of acid, he conjured up the irresistible and insatiable Frankenhooker.

To be fair, the credit can’t all go to Henenlotter as aspiring mad scientist, Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), is the poor sap putting in most of the leg work, arm work, head work, tits work etc. Left heartbroken after his beloved fiancée Elizabeth Shelley (Patty Mullen) succumbs to a freak lawnmower accident (you don’t know how hard it is to write that with a straight face), Jeffrey knows the only way to cope with this loss is to knock up a replacement soul mate using his own personal chemistry set.

Alas, the runaway mower was decidedly thorough in its decimation and there’s precious little actual Elizabeth worth saving. However, it will take a lot more than having to essentially rebuild an entire girlfriend from scratch to stop the soon-to-be-great Dr. Franken in his tracks.

Naturally, given that Elizabeth is of female persuasion, all parts donated to his ingredient list must come from the correct sources and fit certain “specifications”. Jeffrey is meticulous in his planning, right down to areola size, and has a fair idea where to visit for those all-important body parts. It’s only to be expected that a red-blooded male like he would take certain liberties in this department, considering Elizabeth was the equivalent of driftwood with tits before the unfortunate episode.

That is to say she was more adept at scrubbing surfaces with a J-cloth than sliding up and down poles with her legs akimbo, popping ping-pong balls into the eyes of unsuspecting patrons, using nowt but the power of clunge. I do hope you’re getting my drift as this taste thing goes lower you know.

Where’s the danger in plucking a handful of shapely skanks off the streets and bundling them into his trunk for later dismemberment? Well there is the small matter of the dreaded Zorro the Pimp (Joseph Gonzalez) and rumor has it he gets decidedly crotchety when his prize bitches go AWOL. But I’m sure a silver-tongued devil like Jeffrey can schmooze him into submission and it’s not like they won’t be going to a good home.

Moreover, they’ll help to reunite two long-lost lovers and Zorro could be best man at the wedding, provided he doesn’t pummel his opposite number into Belial-pat during a mad fit of uncontrollable rage. Jeffrey swears blind that nothing could possibly go wrong and, if there’s one person you can trust foolishly, then it would be a doctor right?


“Fucking exploded! One minute, they’re my bitches. The next, they’re pieces all over”


Okay so that didn’t go well but, you know what they say, you can’t prepare an omelette without surrendering a few eggs along the way. That’s the thing about science – it’s fucking weird man – and there are no guarantees of success first time out the gate so why limit yourself to just one college try?

The stars are aligned in the sky, an electrical storm is already rumbling above him, and Jeffrey’s feeling like a lucky punk this evening after following his own scribbled notes to the very letter. By the power vested in him and that of Greyskull for additional juice, Franken Enterprises brings you…the one…the only…⚡ Frankenhooker ⚡.

Isn’t she just a keeper? Aside from one persistent twitch (which is hugely endearing I might add), everything appears to have gone precisely to plan and love could well be in the air once more. The problem is, it’s hard to smell hearts and flowers with two flared nostrils full of formaldehyde. She certainly looks purty and cannot be accused of not being flirty, but something tells me she’s about to get shirty and perhaps it would’ve been wise to consult her menstrual calendar prior to SHE’S ALIVE!!!

The streets of New Jersey, formerly of no name, are now ⚡ Frankenhooker ⚡’s stomping ground and, judging by the nose-bleed footwear, it may be time to speed dial Godzilla as Mothra ain’t got shit rusks on this purple people person. If I were Jeffrey, I’d go straight back to Zorro with my finger wagging for supplying defective slag surplus.

Henenlotter is clearly having a ball playing things broader than ever before and, with such a gloriously game cast on-hand to color in the spaces, resistance to its charms is 99.9% futile. Wise guy Lorinz may look curiously similar to fellow eighties teen heart-throb Andrew McCarthy, but he’s more Rat Pack than Brat Pack, as illustrated by the ream upon ream of gangster lean that vacates his maw.

It’s a frightful delight watching him grow increasingly maniacal as judgement hour approaches and he deserves extra kudos for conjuring such a bonkers beauty as the magnificent ⚡ Frankenhooker ⚡.

Mullen is so far into character that it makes us all desire to be so far into her character if you know what I’m saying. Purple nipples? Not a problem, the more mauve the better, as it’s my second favorite color anyhoots. The rigormorted strut is priceless and every aching component screams girls just wanna have fun and follows this blueprint open-handedly.

My only criticism is that we don’t get to spend more time basking beneath her ultraviolet rays as, much like Jeffrey’s science project itself, Frankenhooker takes its sweet time juicing up to the max. But it’s worth it the very first time she bats those wondrous lashes and it just so happens that Henenlotter’s cast-offs are set to make a last-knockings cameo.

And now my life is complete. It was only a matter of time before Belial caught wind of all these electrifying shenanigans and his heavies are every bit as “handsome” so it’s high fives all round right? Not quite, Frankenhooker has a whole lot of fun in its bun and positively crackles with low-voltage energy but could never quite muscle out the likes of Basket Case and Brain Damage in the frequently revisited midnite movie stakes. It’s a close call however. 

Twenty years down the line, if I haven’t been cryogenically frozen by then, I’ll be sure to pay Jeffrey Franken another visit and doink his missus once more. But with the advancement of science comes the need for considerable patience and I never had a great deal of that if I’m honest. Maybe Franken Enterprises could hook me up.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Forget the Yuzna-like prosthetics and decent grue, let’s go watch some hookers explode shall we? Okay so they’re more mannequin than street trash but pyrotechnics don’t come cheap and medical costs are extortionate I hear. In a frantic round of “pop goes the ho”, an entire cluster of alley cats meet their dynamite demise, causing no end of stiletto-themed peril in the process. You know what they say don’t cha? If you’ve gotta go, right?

Read Basket Case Appraisal
Read Brain Damage Appraisal
Read Return of The Living Dead 3 Appraisal
Read Flesh For Frankenstein Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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