Wanna Date? A Frankenhooker Movie Review

From the director of Basket Case and Brain Damage comes a film about undying love and sleaze.

Released by Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment

Release Date: June 1st, 1990

Starring: James Lorinz, Joanne Ritchie, Patty Mullen

Written by Robert Martin and Frank Henenlotter

Directed by Frank Henenlotter

Rated R (gore, drugs and sensuality, and for language)

What began as a birthday barbecue ended in a bizarre tragedy in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey today. It was this power mower that brought a quick end to the life of 21-year old, bride-to-be, Elizabeth Shelley. Like wood through a mulcher, the girthful fiance disappeared beneath the blades of the berserk mower that sent her personality raining down upon the birthday revelers. In a blaze of blood, bones, and body parts, the vivacious young girl was instantly reduced to a tossed human salad, a salad that police are still trying to gather up, a salad that was once named Elizabeth. -Newscaster

When I was a kid, my parents would take me to the video store every weekend. There was a video
store across the street from the subdivision I lived in and my parents would take me and my brother there after dinner every Friday. I always gravitated to the horror, sci-fi, and action genres while my brother would grab the latest He-man tape or Nintendo game.

I remember this one VHS box. It had a woman on the cover. Her face was white (really white, not Caucasian) and she had some stitching around her neck and two neck bolts as well. She was coming out of the subway in Times Square and she had a stare that could bore a hole through someone. The film was called Frankenhooker. There was a button on the VHS box that, when pressed, would say “Wanna Date?”. I played with that box every time we went into the video store. I loved it. I had always wanted to see the film, but never really got around to it.

Now I have seen the film and I have kicked myself for not seeing it sooner. I love this film. There is a pure joy in this film that is very hard to come by and the film sustains this joy for the entire run time of the film. There is no judging, no glances, no feeling weird for watching it. The film is absurd, but that is the whole point. This film has exploding hookers for Christ’s sake.

The film opens with our lead, Jeffrey, played with an enthusiastic deadpan by James Lorinz, as he messes with a brain with an eye that sits in a jar of purple stuff (not the same purple stuff from the Sunny D commercial… or is it?). His fiancé, Elizabeth, is throwing a birthday party for her father. After he blows out the candles on his cake, Elizabeth presents her father with a new lawnmower, one with the blades the face forward. She shows her father that the mower is run by remote control. As she shows him the different functions, the mower starts up and eventually runs her down, killing her.

We cut to some time in the seeable future. Jeffrey seems to have lost his mind as a result of his fiancé’s death. He keeps her head and one of her feet in a top opening freezer in his garage. He plans on bringing her back from the dead, but he has to make sure that everything is right. This includes watching a tape of the news from the day his fiancé died all the time. He also drills holes into his head. The first time we see him do this it helps him think. He comes up with solutions to problems he had before. The next time we see him use it, it is to help him calm down. I liked this joke in the film because your mind is thinking “He can’t do that. He would be dead.”, but then transitions to “I wonder if that would feel good?”. It is a nice visual gag that doesn’t take too much time to set up and has a few payoffs.

Jeffrey realizes that he needs a body to accommodate his fiancé’s head, so he heads to Times Square to find some hookers. He plans to have a party with about 6 or 7 of them and then kill them for their limbs, which he will combine into a new body. He meets a hooker who takes him to her pimp, Zorro ( Joseph Gonzalez). 

Zorro, for much of the film, seems like the nicest pimp ever. Later in the film, when Jeffrey is in the hotel room with the hookers, Zorro enters the lobby of the hotel. The guy behind the desk says "Nice to see you today Zorro." Zorro replies, in the nicest voice, "I came to pick up my bitches." I just found this to be really funny. I am sure that there is a clip of it on YouTube. Go find it. In fact, just watch the film. 

Back to the story. As he is waiting to talk to Zorro, Jeffrey sees that all of the hookers are smoke crack that they got from Zorro. When he finally talks business with Zorro, Jeffrey asks about the crack. When we get back to Jeffrey’s garage, we see that he is going to inadvertently kill the hookers with “Mega Crack”, which is all the crack that he could get, in a jar.

There is no way that I could spoiler the film for you, but what happens to Jeffrey and the hookers during the time that Jeffrey gets from Zorro, is one of the highlights of the film. Needless to say, but he gets what he came for.

Jeffrey takes the best parts that he has and puts together a body that is suitable for his Elizabeth. In the tradition of the Frankensteins that have come before him, Jeffrey hoists Elizabeth up to the heavens where she is struck by lightning and reawakened. There is a problem though. She has all of the immediate memories of the hookers right before they died. So when she is revealed for the first time she asks Jeffrey if he wants a date, followed by “Got any money?” When Jeffrey says no, she hits him over the head with her bag and leaves.

Up to this point of the film I was really going with it. I was afraid that the film would lose me when it comes to Jeffrey and the hookers. We know that he is going to have to kill them and I was afraid that they were going to go the slasher film way and have a big, gory scene, with body parts everywhere and blood dripping from every surface. Apparently this was a concern of some of the people who worked on the film as well, but were relieved when they found out how the scene was going to play out.

Of course, Elizabeth, now thinking like hooker for some reason, goes back down to Times Square. She tries to pick up the first guys she sees, but no one is biting. Then there is an older man who wants to have her. They go to the same hotel where the hookers work from and we find out that any time she touches flesh, they explode due to the electricity coursing through her veins.

It is at this point I will stop giving away the plot to the film. While I was watching the film, I noticed that this film shares a lot of similarities with Bride of Re-Animator, which was released during the production of Frankenhooker. I am not trying to say that the filmmakers stole anything from Bride of Re-Animator. I am merely saying that it was a good time to think of a Frankenstein-type film. The film is about a man who knows his biology and spends the entire film trying to put together a body for his fiancé. The films also conclude in a few similar way, something that I will not talk about, fearing that I would spoil one or both of the films. Just let it be known that both films end in very weird ways.

Frankenhooker was directed by Frank Henenlotter, who gave us the Basket Case trilogy. Henenlotter has a really insane sense of humor, but doesn’t try to offend. Like I said before, the scene with Jeffrey and the hookers could have played out much differently had another director been on the film. Henenlotter introduces us to his insane sense of humor and expects us to take it or reject it.

Case in point: There is a scene early in the film where Jeffrey’s mother comes into his room to see how he is doing. She tells him that she is worried about him. He responds with a huge monologue about how he is becoming amoral and that he is going mad. When he finishes, she asks him “Do you want a sandwich?”   

It is this type of humor, mixed with a sweetness that makes the film watchable to almost anyone. Having seen all of Henenlotter’s films, I can say that, despite the title and some of the nudity, that this is probably Henenlotter’s most accessible film. This is the story of Frankenstein told through 42nd Street. I honestly think that people should look past the title and they will find a film that is really funny and sweet. I know I did, but I would have watched it anyways. It is called Frankenhooker, how could you not want to watch it?

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