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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Frankenhooker': A Fun Slice of American Gothic

June 01, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frank Henenlotter's hilarious, totally outrageous grin-and-gore comedy "Frankenhooker" takes over tonight as the Nuart's Friday midnight offering, replacing his "Basket Case 2."

It couldn't be more appropriate, because "Frankenhooker" is just as gleefully perverse as his "Basket Case" pictures. Shocks-and-yocks is what midnight shows are all about, and the gifted Henenlotter supplies plenty of both.

Even before New Jersey power-plant worker Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) loses his pretty but plumpish fiancee Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) to a runaway lawn mower, you know he's weird, a guy who's been thrown out of three medical schools and whose garage workshop/lab features a tank containing what looks to be the living brain of a Cyclops.

Now Jeffrey has managed to salvage Elizabeth's severed head, and tries to improve upon nature by assembling a new body for her from parts of New York's sexiest streetwalkers.

Much of what happens defies description in its sheer grisliness, but never for a second do Henenlotter and co-writer Robert Martin lose their all-crucial sense of humor. Henenlotter may have had in mind a homage to Herschel Gordon Lewis' cult classic "Blood Feast." However, where that film is disturbingly morbid in its sex-and-violence equation, Henenlotter makes a comic point of Jeffrey's puritanism and its bizarre consequences. Also, "Frankenhooker" (Times-rated Mature) has lots of fun presenting an exaggerated fantasy view of big, bad Manhattan.

As usual, Henenlotter gets extraordinarily well-sustained, straight-faced portrayals from his stars--and in this instance provides cameos for Louise Lasser as Jeffrey's doting, innocent mother and Shirley Stoler as the thought-she'd-seen-it-all proprietor of the lowest dive in New York. No doubt about it, Henenlotter is an original, coming up with a piece of American Gothic that has the primitive energy of Sam Fuller and the dark humor of David Lynch.

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