With a name like Frankenhooker, you pretty much know what you’re getting. It’s not going to offer a progressive view on sex work like Anahí Berneri’s Alanis, or even themes of alienation from the source material it bastardizes, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Instead, you get a Troma-level B-horror comedy that lives up to its name in many ways, but still fails to reach a very low bar.

The story follows Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), a worker at the local power plant who also dabbles in highly advanced biological experiments. His fiancee, Elizabeth (Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen), and the rest of her family seem not to notice or care that he is actively trying to animate a one-eyed brain in a large vat in the family kitchen during her father’s birthday party. Nonetheless, Jeffrey remembered to buy his future father-in-law a gift: an automated lawnmower. Unfortunately, when Elizabeth proudly attempts to demonstrate how to use it, she accidentally runs herself over, sending body parts and viscera everywhere.

Devastated at the loss of his one true love, Jeffrey starts to lose his already fragile mind. Having kept Elizabeth’s head preserved in a freezer, he starts working on ways to bring her back to life. However, Elizabeth was never happy with her weight (Patty Mullen wears a particularly ridiculous fat suit during the opening scenes), so he concludes that he needs to find the absolute best body parts to reconstruct her. 

Meanwhile, a big storm is rolling into town, providing Jeffrey with the perfect opportunity to reanimate her, but with very little time to actually get all of the pieces into place. At first, he is at a loss as to where he will acquire the body parts. Ultimately he concludes that prostitutes will serve as the perfect test subjects. While watching a news program in which a woman advocates for legalizing prostitution and getting rid of the crack cocaine that is taking so many lives, Jeffrey develops a form of “super crack” that will help him kill the prostitutes and harvest their bodies.

After selecting the finest women he can find in the nearby red light district, he brings all of the prostitutes into a hotel room and spends the evening “playing doctor” to see which of the bare-breasted women has the best body parts. Frustrated that none of the women have all of the perfect parts, he gives up hope. Just then, the group of nude women discover the “super crack” and start losing their minds to get a taste. Jeffrey frantically tries to stop them, but to no avail. One by one, the prostitutes start blowing up, with body parts flying in every direction. When the local pimp breaks down the door to reclaim his women, one of their heads flies through the air and knocks him unconscious. This gives Jeffrey the opportunity to collect all of the best parts he can find and reassemble them in his mom’s garage. Thus, Frankenhooker is born.

Frankenhooker exploding scene
Frankenhooker (1990)

As with any story based on Frankenstein (however loosely), the experiment doesn’t go exactly as planned. The “new and improved” Elizabeth, now played by Patty Mullen without a fat suit and covered in stitches, adopts the traits of all of the women from whom she was constructed. As a result, she escapes Jeffrey and starts looking for clients on the streets.

Director Frank Henenlotter goes out of his way to make over-the-top, exploitative movies on low budgets, so it is not fair to say that Frankenhooker is a complete misfire. That said, even for the time in which it is made, the film is pretty offensive. Jeffrey could not objectify women more if he tried. The “hookers” are portrayed as idiotic crack addicts with no self-control. At one point, two of the women start kissing and fondling one another, which Jeffrey tries to stop as he claims it is “unnatural.”

Of course, all of these offenses have to be taken with a grain of salt. It is a purposefully exploitative story, just like all of Henenlotter’s films. However, its greatest offense is being overly long and dull. Despite having a runtime of just 85 minutes, the film drags on in the middle, perhaps because James Lorinz doesn’t offer anything of value as a leading man. There are a few moments of pure B-horror fun and shenanigans, but there’s not nearly enough shlock to keep viewers entertained to the very end. That said, the last scene might be the goofiest of them all, so if you have the patience to get through the first 80 minutes or so, you can at least look forward to a funny (albeit grim) twist of fate.

Frankenhooker (1990) Movie Rating: ★★ out of 5

If you’d like to watch Frankenhooker (1990), it is currently available to stream on Shudder and Amazon Prime. For more film reviews like this one, be sure to check out the Philosophy in Film homepage!

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