"...and parts is parts." Or...
Written by Henenlotter and Robert Martin
Information in the IMDB, US.IMDB
Buy this at Reel.com
'T is but a part we see, and not a whole...
It's kind of pointless to slam a movie that was aiming for the low end of the cinematic bell curve and achieves that goal spectacularly. Troma has been doing it for years and they get away with it because you know what you're getting. However, unlike the Troma factory, Frank Henenlotter showed a lot of promise with his dreamlike Basket Case and hallucinatory Brain Damage.
This movie is neither.
The reason for the party is Elizabeth's father's birthday. As a gift, Jeffrey has built a remote control lawn mower. Despite repeated warnings from Jeffrey, Elizabeth stands in front of the contraption with the remote and puts it into drive. Both Elizabeth and the party break up. Blood shoots onto the standard symbol found in suburban lawns: the garden gnome. Go to pink opening credits.
Fade to Jeffrey doing some workups on a large copy of a muscle drawing from Gray's Anatomy. He's adding some basic electrical wiring diagrams, although it's not clear if he's translating the nervous system to circuits or he's planning to add circuits to a human body. (Electrical engineers will kindly ignore that voltage levels and fuses are in the diagram, but there are no notes on loads.) His room is a shrine to Elizabeth. He pauses to play a VCR tape of the news story about the death of Elizabeth, which reveals some parts were missing. Enter Jeffrey's mother (Louise Lasser) who tries to convince him he should get on with his life.
Jeffrey sets up a romantic dinner with pizza, wine, and Elizabeth's lifeless head and other body parts. Elizabeth doesn't get many lines during this scene, and Jeffrey tries to sell Elizabeth on the idea of a new body and declares his warped love for her. Feh, the cheap schmuck didn't buy her flowers, turns a romantic dinner into sales meeting, and selects a red to go with a cheese pizza; makes you wonder what her lifeless head sees in this guy. After their date, he puts her head and miscellaneous bits into a freezer filled with Purple Stuff (pat. pend.). Later on, well find out that the Purple Stuff (pat. pend.) is an estrogen based nutrient, so if he's going to violate nature, it's going to have to be with a woman. (heh heh)
On TV, the weatherman (cameo by John Zacherle) says there will be a
storm in a couple of days good enough for mad scientists. Jeffrey
decides he needs some girl parts and he's got a deadline. Needing
to think, Jeffrey drills some holes in his head and concludes he can find
some girls who sell their bodies over in the city and he can use his Christmas
club account to get them.
Zorro's office is as much a live freak sex show as Jeffrey's suburbia is bland. He cuts Jeffrey a deal for multiple girls for a party to be held later. Zorro tips Honey some crack. Jeffrey notices Zorro marks his property with a carved circle-Z. Gee, if his name was Romeo, his girls would have the registered copyright mark (®). At this point, it should be noted that Zorro must be a pretty decent guy at heart, as he does not rob Jeffrey and dump his fool body into the river.
Back in suburbia, Jeffrey tries to rationalize what he's about to do. He drills himself again (at this point, how phallic is this Black and Decker gland stimulation) and decides that killing these girls for parts is only speeding up the current process. (It somehow doesn't seem as witty as Oscar Wilde referring to Jack the Ripper as a social reformer.) He then unveils his Final Solution: a great big jar of supercrack. You can tell it's supercrack because the crystals are the size of golf balls. He tries some out on his guinea pig, who pops into four pieces like one of those toy fly apart cars.
Jeffrey goes to his private (parts) party. Toward the end of the session, he has an attack of conscience (guess he's not going to play with his drill here) and decides he's not going through with his plan. He hands over his bag with the money and the girls discover the supercrack. A few pyrotechnic seconds later, the room is lousy with bimbo bits, with the last explosion knocking out the arriving Zorro. Jeffrey mumbles apologies that sound like Seymor in Little Shop of Horrors while bagging the parts (which seem to be lighter than original, as he can easily move around with a whole garbage bag of these components).
Back at Jeffrey's garage lab, he's playing mix and match prostie parts. After finding a part to his liking, he glues it onto the rest of the body with the Purple Stuff (pat. pend.) and attaches it with an arc welder. (It takes a stretch of the imagination, but it can be assumed this is played for laughs.) He tosses the leftovers into the freezer filled with Purple Stuff (pat. pend.). When he's done, he does the obligatory "elevate the creation on the table into a lightning storm" routine. Some spare lightning zaps the freezer; gee, you think that may mean something later?
The table comes down, and we meet Jeffrey's creation, hereafter called
Frankenhooker. Dressed as a purple mad hooker (couldn't have anything
to do with the Purple Stuff (pat. pend.), could it?), she speaks nothing
but what the prostitutes said around Jeffrey earlier. After Jeffrey
tells her he doesn't want a date, the purple patchwork prostie pummels
the poor putz and heads off to work.
While Jeffrey is still looking for her, she arrives at Zorro's club looking for business. Zorro, who is still feeling badly about the recent liquidation of his stock, is sitting at the bar talking to an associate. The associate notices Frankenhooker enter and excuses himself from Zorro to transact some business with the Barney Babe. It's not long before he does the arc & spark boogie and explodes, which gets Zorro's undivided attention, especially when he sees his trademark on her arm. Zorro and Frankenhooker scuffle a bit, and Zorro punches her in the head. Instead of popping up like a Rockem Sockem Robot, her head flaps back over her shoulder blades while lightning shoots out. For some odd reason, this fountain of sparks and not Zorro's associate's explosion clears out the club. Jeffrey arrives, puts her head back into place, and leads her out. Zorro calls a cab (hey, how'd that happen?) and follows.
Back again at the garage lab, Jeffrey finishes reattaching Frankenhooker's head and gives her a jump start. When she wakes up, she has Elizabeth's personality and she's upset about her new body. (Why? She was complaining about her weight before....) While Jeffrey is trying to explain the process and sell her on the idea, Zorro bushwhacks him, cutting his head clean off. Zorro tries to reclaim Elizabeth's body parts by showing her a bag of crack, but this gets more attention from the left overs in the deep freeze (remember?) filled with Purple Stuff (pat. pend.). The left overs, which look like the illegitimate children of Picaso and Dali, drag Zorro off to Hell (which assumes Hell is a deep freeze filled with Purple Stuff (pat. pend.)).
Jeffrey wakes up. Elizabeth explains that, since the Purple Stuff
(pat. pend.) only works on women, Jeffrey now has a woman's body.
The camera angles, editing, and music for the start of her rampage all
jibe together well. It's good film making. Gee, you'd get the
idea that the makers had a good idea for a short and built an 87 minute
feature around it....
Although most of the special effects are unsatisfying, the animation
with the electrical arcs work well. Sure, you look at it and know
you're looking at animation, but they're actually nice to look at.
It's also sad to see Louise Lasser here. (See notes on cast and
crew below.) Despite being a genuine comedic talent and given star
billing in this movie, she's relegated to a Shelley Winters kind of role
with a very short screentime in a scene the movie didn't really need.
The pyrotechnic prostie scenes are a fall a bit short too. They're well staged and the makers do a good job positioning the actresses and their exploding dummies, and that's the problem -- as crucial as this sequence is, they still look like exploding dummies. Most of this is from not staging the simple physics of the situation. When you see a body explode, you expect the parts to go in various directions. When you see torsos stay put on several explosions, your mind rebels and you say, "It's a dummy." It spoils a well blocked effect.
You can say the same thing about the "leftover monsters." They're
well designed, but their obvious latex puppet origins spoils the effect.
Perhaps the scene should've been filmed on a darker set. As a final
disappointment, Jeffrey's female body in the last shot is just too unconvincing
to buy the parting gag.
Cripes, doesn't anyone know how to tease anymore?
Co-writer Robert Martin (known to some as Ed Flixman [yes, that Flixman]) was the original editor for Fangoria magazine and helped to flesh out the emerging SciFi Channel's web site. On Frankenhooker and Basket Case 3, Martin fleshed out the drafts based on Henenlotter's outlines. Naturally, he has an official web site.
James Lorinz (Jeffrey) had a bit part in Street Trash. See notes below in Roots, Shoots, and Other Comparisons for why this may be significant.
Beverly Bonner (Casey) was Casey in the Basket Case series, too; can't the girl be assigned another character name?
Lousie Lasser (Jeffrey's Mother) was the child of a wealthy family. She got her big step up as a performer doing improv and movies with Woody Allen back in the late 60's/early 70's. Best known for the lead in the odd Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman satire on soap operas. During that series she was darn near anorexic, so it was a major event when she cameback as Alex's heavy ex-wife in Taxi. I, for one, think she's showed a lot more open comedic talent since her comeback.
Shirley Stoler (Spike the Bartender) was of the few large actresses to specialize in drama instead of comedy. Got her big break (no pun intended) in Honeymoon Killers and got a good part as one of the mothers in The Deer Hunter. Did a couple of seasons on One Life to Live and played Mrs. Steve on Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Died this past February from heart failure.
David Lipman (Frankenhooker's trick) did various bit parts as politicians. His characters seem to have no luck with hookers. You may remember him as the sadistic state senator who's prostitute beating session was interrupted by a mercury filled bullet in The Exterminator. Has a recurring role as Judge Morris Torledsky in Law & Order.
John Zacherle (Weatherman) is better known as Zacherley, horror host extraordinaire of Chiller Theater back in the 50's and minor cult icon thereafter. Y'know, I like the Zachmeister, and he was one of the few lively performers in this movie, but I see his name on the bottom of these credits and ask, what? Forrest Ackerman wasn't available?
Not a surprise, but several of the body fodder girls did softporn and realporn. This includes Heather Hunter (Chartreuse), who appeared in several so-called adult movies with titles like Coming on America and Screw the Right Thing. OK, that last one puns a Spike Lee movie, but it all balances out; she had a bit part (literally) in Lee's He Got Game.
Charlotte J. Helmkamp (Honey) may be better known to some as Charlotte Kemp, which was the name she used when she became a Playboy Playmate (December 1982).
Lia Chang (Crystal) tended to get bit parts based on her ethnicity. However, she's had better breakthroughs as a photojournalist.
Joe Renzetti (composer) worked as a composer in movies with a distinctive 50's beat, including The Buddy Holly Story. He'd since worked on several horror films, including Dead and Buried and Child's Play. He also did parts 2 and 3 of the Basket Case trilogy.
Most of the production company worked with executive producer James
Glickenhaus on movies like The Exterminator, The Soldier,
and McBain. Grudge holders may wish to note that Glickenhaus
wrote and directed The Protector, which set Jackie Chan's stardom
in the western world back about a decade.
Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley -- Y'know, if the fruit falls far enough from the apple tree, you'd swear it was a cantaloupe tree.
Orlacs Hände (1924) [Orlac's Hands] -- The body-part-with-residual-memory theme. Pianist gets a new pair of hands; unfortunately, the hands came from a murderer and still have a mind of their own. Or do they? Based on 1920 novel Les mains d'Orlac by Maurice Reanrd. Remade with Peter Lorre as Mad Love (1935) and various others throughout the years.
Frankenstein (1931) -- Established the visual trappings for all that followed, including the neck bolts and corrective shoes. Unlike Shelley's story, the monster is not disposed toward evil because he is an unnatural creation, but because he's got an abnormal brain. Thus begins the popular concept of playing shell games with minds and brains, and it would reach a climax in Universal's Frankenstein franchise with...
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) -- Scientist tries to give The Monster the brain of good man, but Ygor manipulates the characters and his brain is used instead. Parodied in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), by which time the mind/brain transplant concept was old enough for satire. The mind/brain shell game would appear in many other movies, including...
The Lady and the Monster (1944) -- Curt Siodmak's story about a disembodied brain taking mental control over those nearby. Remade as Donovan's Brain (1953) and mutated into several brain-needs-a-new-home B-line wannabes, including the girl body harvest in Monstrosity (1964) and Al Adamson's dripfest Brain of Blood (1972). If you thought it was too expensive or too, uh, cerebral to show a brain, not to worry. They got around that in...
Man Without a Body (1957) -- Brain transplants become head transplants when a businessman acquires the still-living head of Nostradamus. [Insert obligatory "Betcha he didn't see that one coming" line here.] The head transplant theme rolled over and died in...
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962) -- Landmark bottom of the cinematic barrel B-line feature about a surgeon, his decapitated girlfriend's living head, and the psychopathic quest for a new body. Budget conscious film makers could now avoid the cost of showing a brain when they could just go with the whole head. Theme of disembodied head kept fresh for reuse follows in several bottom scrapers, including The Frozen Dead (1966), The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971), and The Thing with Two Heads (1972). By the time Re-Animator (1985) came along, the living head in a lab cliché was ripe for depraved comedy. By the time Frankenhooker came along, the head transplant gag needed a transfusion.
Gritos en la noche [Screams in the Night] (1962) -- Better known in this country as The Awful Dr. Orloff. Early Jesús Franco effort about a surgeon rebuilding his daughter at the expense of other young women.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) -- Included here for the sake of its title (a parody on the Brigitte Bardot title And God Created Woman), which is misleading on the plot. Hammer movie with Peter Cushing. This time around, the doctor captures the soul of a falsely accused and executed man and puts it into the body of the man's recently deceased girlfriend. Tenuous relation to "decapitation and new body" theme, as the man was executed on a guillotine.
Flesh for Frankenstein (1974) -- The notorious sex & splatter flick from Andy Worhal and Paul Morrissey. Formally broke the association between the Frankenstein brand name and nostalgic horror. The transplanted head (vice brain) motif is used here.
The Man with Two Brains (1983) -- Steve Martin in a Carl Reiner spoof of Donovan's Brain and other mad science movies from the same era. Martin's character falls in love with the telepathic brain of the woman and needs a perfect body to go. He begins shopping for prostitutes. If only Frankenhooker's mad science dialog was this funny....
Frankenweenie (1984) -- No, this is not a prequel about the Liberace component in Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein. Early Tim Burton short about a boy and his reanimated dog. Plays for a skewed view on suburbia which is echoed in Frankenhooker; see also Burton's Edward Siscorhands.
Weird Science (1985) -- Two boys with far too much time on their hands build the perfect woman from a collage of data. Side references to Bride of Frankenstein.
Street Trash (1987) -- The super hot rot-gut here, plus the exploding lab rat in Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), may have inspired the supercrack in Frankenhooker.
Bride of the Re-Animator (1990) -- Released same year, but similar in theme to Frankenhooker. Although considered by many to be lesser than Re-Animator, the girl building mad science is still played with more style and humor than Frankenhooker, including Jeffrey Combs' wonderful deadpan line at the climax ("Make a note: tissue rejection.").
Boxing Helena (1993) -- A sign that the "building the better woman" theme needed a breather. Surgeon smitten with a girl creates his ideal woman by taking her apart. Worthy fable about a man creating a woman's dependence becomes unintentionally funny in the execution. Forced dependence through maiming worked better in Misery.
Animal House (1978) -- OK, just threw that one in here, but only
because of the sign on a parade float that says, "Where there are better
women, Faber men will make them."
Published 4 April 1999