Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre!
The history of film is filled with stories of actors who retired from the business, though they lit up the screen with a light we longed to see again: Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Rick Moranis, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman. And that same history is filled with just as many actors who graced us with their performances only once and sometimes twice.
Patty Mullen is among the latter, a bright star featured in two films, Doom Asylum (1987) and Frank Henenlotter’s front-of-the-line cult classic Frankenhooker (1990), playing the title character with the natural pizzazz of a classically-trained performer, if not comedian. She also appeared in the 80s tv series The Equalizer and the cutting room floor of a Woody Allen film, according to an interview on a Monsters from the Basement podcast from 2012. And now she’s a fan favorite at the renaissance of cons we’re all currently and happily experiencing.
Her role as Elizabeth Shelley slash Frankenhooker is the singular most underrated performance in film history, combining dual roles, heavy special effects makeup, slapstick, mimicking other actors, an accent and the most challenging comedy of all, satire. Okay, the accent is probably real. And incidentally, she also places dual roles in Doom Asylum as mother and daughter.
Directed by Frank Henenlotter, Frankenhooker opens with Mullen as a moderately overweight Elizabeth Shirley who can’t seem to lose weight and whose boyfriend, Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), is a kind of do-it-yourself mad scientist who once stapled her stomach himself. Even before she becomes the titular character she zings out deadpan comedic lines like when her friend asks her about Franken, “And you let him operate on you?” and she answers, “Well, of course. We’re going to be married.”
As she shows off Franken’s remote control mower to her dad for his birthday, well, she finally loses the weight, but fast-thinking Franken saves some of the parts, especially the head. We don’t see her for quite a while after this, as Franken attempts to choose a prostitute’s body to replace hers. But something goes horribly wrong—again—and the bevy of ladies of the night he was choosing from find his Super-Crack and—okay, I’ve given away too much already.
But when she comes back, Patty Mullen steals the show. After an obligatory if not mandatory dose of electricity the platform lowers with a standing figure covered in a sheet that is pulled off by Franken, and there she is in all her monster glory: fish-net stockings, purple mini-skirt and a padded bra-like top, stitches, mismatched body parts, blue-purple hair, rouged cheeks and the eponymous Frankenstein footwear, also purple. But that’s not all we get. As she leaves we get a gait even Karloff would appreciate.
Special effects make-up was created by Gabe Bartalos, who worked on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Gremlins 2 (1990), Darkman (1990) and the creature effects-driven Basketcase 2 and 3 (1990, 1991). And of all the times this scene has occurred in cinematic history this one is certainly way up there.
It’s her character and talent, however, that shine the most after this first revelation. “Wanna date?” are the first now trademark words out of her mouth and also the words one of the prostitutes uttered, which were also uttered electronically from the Frankenhooker boxes in the video rental stores. As Frankenhooker starts walking the street she keeps uttering phrases from the prostitutes that now make up her jumbled identitiy, occasionally throwing in a few of Elizabeth Shelley’s lines too. And Mullen also gives us that trademark spasmodic lip snarl that lets us know something ain’t all that right with her. In one of the most perfect unedited shots ever, she emerges from the New York subway with that Frankenstein walk, spouting the hooker lines and giving us that snarl as she attempts to encourage several men for a “date.”
When Franken finally finds her and brings her back to his lab slash garage, she slowly becomes more of Elizabeth Shelley, and when she learns what Franken has done she gives him a kind of revenge ending that should be on a whole bunch of top ten lists for movie endings.
I always wondered why Patty Mullen never starred in any more movies, and that mystery is over. She left film-heavy New York for Florida, married and now has two daughters. According to several sources, mostly that rascally internet, rumors promise a return pairing up with Henenlotter, and though it would make us all happy, it seems doubtful.
On a scale of Karloff/Boyle to DeNiro, Mullen is definitely closer to the Karloff/Boyle side, and she has a scream queen presence second only to Cassandra Elvira Petersen. Well, hopefully, we might be able to catch her at some cons, or maybe some industrious aspiring filmmakers reading this right now should put her in a new flick, cause we’d all like this scream queen to make a comeback.