It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 201320142015201620172018201920202021,  2022, and 2023.

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, Frank Henenlotter is a goddamn American treasure. Born in New York in 1950, Henenlotter was inspired by the exploitation and sexploitation films that played on 42nd Street in New York back in the heyday of the sleazy 60s and 70s. His first film was a 16 mm short called “The Slash of the Knife” and was at one point supposed to be paired with a screening of John Waters’ trash classic Pink Flamingos but was removed from the program for being too offensive! His first feature, the now iconic Basket Case was also filmed on 16 mm and shot partially in Times Square thanks to its “seedy, wonderful atmosphere.”

He’s one of those rare directors where every single film in his filmography is worth seeing, preferably in a dingy theater where your feet stick to the floor. He followed Basket Case with 1988’s delightfully demented Brain Damage (featuring horror host Zacherle as the voice of a talking parasite, Basket Case 2 (which released the same year as Frankenhooker), then rounded out the Basket Case trilogy with Basket Case 3: The Progeny in 1991. Then after over a decade away from film, his final feature, Bad Biology was released in 2008. He’s been filming documentaries ever since.

But since this is a Frankenstein Movie Marathon, let’s get back to the aforementioned Frankenhooker!

Apparently, Henenlotter improvised the story at a pitch meeting and only got started writing the script after funding of $1.5 million was secured, making it his most expensive film to that point. The film stars James Lorinz as Jeffrey Franken, a young power plant worker who is also a scientist specializing in bioelectricity (as demonstrated by his pet project, the brain with an eyeball he keeps in a fishtank). His fiancé Elizabeth Shelley, played the miraculous former Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen, is killed in a bizarre lawnmower accident and after gathering up as many parts as he could, Jeffrey is determined to bring her back to life. In order to keep himself calm when things get too crazy, Jeffrey also experiments with self-trepanation.

As one does.

Plus, here’s a special shout-out to casting Shirley Stoler as Spike the Bartender. Stoler was, for those who don’t know, cast as homicidal maniac murderer Martha Beck the classic low-budget crime classic The Honeymoon Killers (1970).

Henenlotter had trouble getting an R-rating with the MPAA, and according to an interview with website The Skinny, his secretary was told by the MPAA rep, “Congratulations, you’re the first film rated S.” And she said “S? For sex?” And they said “No, S for Shit.” Regardless, Frankenhooker went on to be named “Killer B Film of the Year for 1990 by E! Entertainment Television’s Attack of the Killer B’s segment, and even Bill Murray is a fan, going so far as to provide a pull quote for the release, saying “If you see one movie this year, it should be Frankenhooker.”

Who am I to question Bill Murray?

Frankenhooker lives and dies on the shoulders of Jame Lorinz and he gives it everything he’s got. He channels the same sort of energy that Michael Moriarty did in his strongest Seventies work. Regardless of whether he’s having an intimate dinner with his dead fiancé’s head, chatting up a roomful of hookers as he tries to find the perfect limbs to combine for his perfect reanimated body, or just interacting with his mother (the incomparable Louise LasserMary Hartman, Mary Hartman, for you plebes), his performance is the heart and soul of the film. He brings a level of professionalism that is missing from Henenlotter’s earlier efforts – not that there’s anything wrong with them – that, like Moriarty’s performances in Q: The Winged Serpent or It’s Alive 3: Island of the Alive, lets the character live naturally, his internal monologue made manifest in his constant mutterings.

That may sound like faint praise, but I fucking love Moriarty in those films and this stands shoulder to shoulder to them.

I understand that when I describe the following moments from the film that more sensitive readers might turn away in disgust, you have to understand… the low-budget horror film world of the late Eighties/early Nineties was gross. Transgressive filmmaking meant offending the norms. Yes, that means you. You fucking norm.

After seeing a new report about how crack is causing a wave of deaths in the world of prostitution and drug addicts, Jeffrey decides that developing a strain of Super Crack will kill prostitutes painlessly and with no muss or fuss, so he needs is a hotel room full of hookers where he can find the best parts to use to construct a body for his dead love (who could have stood to lose a few pounds). But when they start exploding, he gets more than he bargained for and must bring home a trunkful of hooker parts to construct his perfect bride.

This is a good time to step back and take a breath and think about the patriarchal nature of all of these Bride films and how they objectify the female body and reinforce masculine control.

In the best of scenarios, these films can be seen as male anxieties about female reproductive power. So long as women are required to make babies and carry on one’s legacy, men will always be subject to their reproductive power. If you don’t think that’s at the heart of contemporary attempts by conservatives to regulate women’s bodies, then you need to go talk to some actual women, not just your female-filtered ChatGPT, you Republican incel fucks.

Um, yeah, back to the film discussion (but, really, wait until the next review…)

Frankenhooker, as crazy as it sounds, might be the first film in the marathon to directly address the objectification of women in these films. There’s not a single example of men reanimating female bodies or creating whole new bodies from the “best” parts in these films that doesn’t implicitly reinforce the idea of masculine possession and feminine objectivity. At least here, once the pimp Zorro (Joseph Gonzalez) has beheaded Jeffrey, and the reanimated Elizabeth has no choice but to transplant his head to a female body (the reanimation fluid was estrogen-based, so he could only reanimate women…), we get, if only for a moment or two, the first representation of masculine subordination to the female anatomy, and damn does it read as trans-fear.

No man in any of these films has had to ask, “Where’s my Johnson?” to a scientific creator and it’s about time.

So, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Frankenhooker is feminist, it at least, in its final closing minutes, gives a nod to female representation in a 1990s New York exploitation film kind of way. Which is to say, it’s cheap and dirty and has more to say than the filmmakers may have even realized while making their transgressive horror movie.

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