Monday, January 2, 2012


Six features in nearly thirty years is not a large output for a writer-director, but it says a lot about the strength and specificity of Frank Henenlotter's twisted vision that he's earned a place in the pantheon of squirm-inducing filmmakers somewhere betwixt (I would say) Paul Bartel and Brian Yuzna. He can be every bit as grisly and polymorphic in his horrors as Yuzna, but he also has a broad (and dark) puckish streak recalling the best of Bartel.

FRANKENHOOKER, Henenlotter's third feature, is just about as high concept as horror can get: the title is not only irresistibly descriptive, it's nearly onomatopoeic of the auteur's own name. Seeing it again for the first time in more than 20 years, I was more restless than I expected to be during the first half; the editing is leisurely to say the least and the title character isn't unveiled until 56m into the picture, which runs only 84m and change. That's a lot of James Lorinz's self-loathing interior monologue to take! It really is a short story idea chewed and rechewed to feature length, and some of it is laborious. That said, there are fun shocks scattered throughout and whenever the film breaks away from its morbid, mumbling protagonist to introduce other more colorful characters, it's revitalized -- whether it's his mother (a babooshka-looking Louise Lasser), the musclebound pimp Zorro or his crazy hoes, and especially when Patty Mullen's Frankenhooker is stomping around. Designed and made-up by Gabe Bartolos, she's like the Bride of Frankenstein crazy-quilted together with parts of CRIMES OF PASSION's China Blue -- and the painstaking detail of his make-up applications is all the more breathtaking in Blu-ray.

This was the first time I'd seen this picture since I reviewed it in 1990 for VW's second issue, the talking box VHS release. ("Wanna date?") Since then, it's had two further issues: in 1999 as an early DVD on the Simitar label (which John Charles reviewed for our 50th issue) and another on the Unearthed Films label from 2008. Simitar's soft-looking, full-screen release was unmatted, revealing some areas of the frame not meant to be seen, and it was the R-rated version to boot. Unearthed resurrected the film in its unrated, correctly cropped format but I've heard their transfer was on the dark side and it presented the Dolby Stereo soundtrack in 2.0 only. Synapse Films' new Blu-ray gives the film a lustre it's never known till now, with an HD transfer of the complete unrated version that is nearly like standing on the sets and locations and a brand-new 5.1 remix that lends refreshed prominence to sound effects and Joseph Renzetti's score. The presentation sparkles and shows off this cult favorite to its best advantage.

Viewed on Synapse Films Blu-ray (and coming soon on Blu-ray from Arrow Films in the UK).

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