It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature... it can be HORRIFYING!
Year of Release: 1974
Also Known As: The Freakmaker
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 92 minutes (1:32)
Director: Jack Cardiff
Donald Pleasence ... Professor Nolter
Tom Baker ... Lynch
Brad Harris ... Brian Redford
Julie Ege ... Hedi
Michael Dunn ... Burns
Scott Antony ... Tony
Jill Haworth ... Lauren
Olga Anthony ... Bridget
Tony Mayne ... Dwarf Tony
Molly Tweedlie ... Dwarf Molly
Kathy Kitchen ... Midget Kathy
Fran Fullenwider ... Fat Lady
Lesley Roose ... Skinny Lady
Fay Bura ... Bearded Lady
Bob Bura ... Fire Eater
O.T. ... Human Pincushion
Madge Garnett ... Monkey Woman
Willie Ingram ... Popeye
Hugh Baily ... Pretzel Boy
Esther Blackmon ... Alligator Girl
Harry Fielder ... Barker at Funfair (uncredited)
A Frankensteinian twist on Tod Browning's classic FREAKS.
THE FREAKMAKER (aka The Mutations) stars Donald Pleasence (Cul-De-Sac, Fantastic Voyage) as Professor Nolter, a college science professor who believes it is man's destiny to survive an uncertain future by evolving into a hybrid plant/human mutation. To test his theories, Nolter supervises the abduction of young co-eds and fuses them with mutant plants he has developed in his laboratory, placing his rejects in a neighboring freak show (which stars such real-life oddities as the Alligator Lady, the Frog Boy, the Human Pretzel, the Monkey Woman, the Human Pincushion and the unforgettable "Popeye".
The Mutations, the movie that reminds us that steak an vegetables go together a lot better when they're on a plate, rather than an operating table. Tree huggers love this movie, they figure if Donald Pleasence can make this happen they'll be even closer to the plant life than they already are. While hugging the trees is nice in and of itself, they feel like they're ready to move to the next step in their relationship with the forest. Trouble is, while drilling a hole into the tree will provide adequate lubrication for said hole, that'd make them no better than the assholes that wanna build homes out of it. An as for the lady hippies well, I don't pretend to understand exactly what it feels like but I feel like I'm on pretty safe ground to suggest that fucking a tree branch probably isn't very fulfilling, unless you're into pain of course. But if Donald pulls this off, they can finally become one with the flora and achieve... whatever it is they seem to want. Nutbars. Anyway, in my viewing experience this is without a doubt the greatest movie to ever come out of Britain that features one of the Dr. Whos as a guy with elephantiasis that wants to get his deformities fixed up so he won't have to feel awkward around hookers anymore. So check this out. First thing you're gonna wanna make sure to take note of in this one is that midgets hunt in packs. They're like wolves that can think and reason, so if you see one, be on the lookout, because the first one is only a scout. Second, British prostitutes are not only cheap and effective, but they're essentially New York cab drivers, cause there isn't anything that they haven't seen before. An third, guys that live in glass houses shouldn't have elephantiasis. Not only does everything break when you start calling other people freaks, but everyone can see you at all times an you're ugly. But here's something that really sticks in my craw. People trying to combine two things that have no business together. Turning people into human/plant hybrids is gonna work out about as well as Tina an Ike. I should probably elaborate. Half your body wants to watch the game, but the other half wants to sit in the sun so it can get some photosynthesis goin'. You wanna go out for a beer, but you can't because your roots have now taken hold in your living room an you've become completely stationary. An perhaps the worst of all, your friends start making Troll 2 cracks when you're not around. Normally I'm all for Donald Pleasence, but I think this idea just isn't meant to be an he probably oughta go back to the drawing board. Maybe get a round table discussion with Dr. Moreau an Leopold from The Blood Waters of Dr. Z an see if he can't retool this plan a little bit.
You may wanna just skip the first six minutes or so of the movie, because if you were born before 1990 and you've taken a Biology course in school, you've probably already seen this part as it was plastered all over the blackboard by a film projector. After the film's over, Donald Pleasence starts talkin' to the kids in his class about how they all have a variety of genetic mutations, but that none of 'em are particularly interesting. Kinda like the movie up to this point. Donald thinks we need to harness genetics so people won't have to be born with defects an so we can give all the women really big knockers. Then the class disperses an the Limeys prattle on back an forth about kippers an how the Queen's super groovy for awhile until they have to part ways. One of them breaks off from the pack an takes the road less traveled on her way home, only a pack of midgets position themselves strategically throughout the area an chase after her, as well as they're able, until they can run her into the waiting arms of Lynch. (Normally I'd call Lynch "The Doctor" throughout the review, but because Donald Pleasence is a doctor in the movie that might get confusing so I'll abstain from doing so) Lynch wears a trench coat an looks like he's got about seven pounds of modeling clay stuck to his face an heads up a group called the "Raincoat Mafia". Then he asks her if his hankie smells like chloroform an lugs her off to Donald's laboratory cause he figures Donald's really smart an he's gonna work out a serum to make him look a little less like John Hurt in The Elephant Man. Plus any guy that hires people to kidnap women for medical experiments has a set of ethics that are beyond reproach, so it's pretty much a sure thing. While all this is happening, the soundtrack sounds a lot like two dogs fighting over the horn to a clown car. So Lynch gets a good look at the girl's assets while Donald feeds a bunny to Aubrey II from Little Shop of Horrors an pretty quick they're ready to get to work. So the pacing's a little off, it's a Monday, give 'em a break. Elsewhere, the rest of the students are picking up another student at a something or other because the group rate on their health insurance is gonna go up if they don't get another cast member to replace the missing bird. The next day (I think), Donald is back in the classroom pointing a big potato gun with a microscope lens on the end at an orange an using a time lapse so that it looks like his potato gun made it into a round broccoli.
Then he puts it back under the potato gun an hits the rewind button and the mold shrivels up an vanishes. If Donald would just use this thing to crank out ton after ton of penicillin he'd be rich as Astronazis, but he's a purist, and that would be beneath him. He's trying to save humanity from... well what he's trying to save us from isn't important, what's important is, the man's dedicated, and with the exception of the women he kidnaps an turns into squash, he's well intentioned. So Donald invites the new student over to his castle/lab to blind him with science. The new student (Brian) is pretty impressed by the rat in the test tube that's sprouted leaves, as well as Aubrey II's insatiable appetite for Bugs Bunny, and is pretty sure that Donald is a stand up guy. Meanwhile, over at the local carnival, the freak show performers provide us with some exposition about how Lynch is a big self righteous douche that thinks he's too good for 'em, an how some of their attractions that seem a little on the biologically impossible side keep vanishing on 'em. So then the kids head over to the freak show where the owner puts all the exhibits on display for the normies to gawk at for awhile. Then, as is standard, when the performance finishes, he brings all the suckers into the next room for the "blow off", which is actually anything but, at least when compared to an actual freak show blow off. In this case, the blow off is the girl Donald was stickin' with needles earlier, only now she looks a lot like Guido from Star Wars after he ate some Chernobyl Farms brand chicken. But when the kids try to go in, they notice that the guy issuing tickets is wearing a necklace a lot like the one their friend had an he gets this look on his face like he just reached for the soap in a prison shower an closes up shop. Back at Castle Pleasence, Donald needs another test subject cause he couldn't get any pesticide on his last one before she developed lettuce mosaic virus. So Lynch sets his sights on Tony, the student that suffers debilitating narcolepsy anytime Donald talks in class. Tony really wanted to see the blow off back at the carnival, so he sneaks in after hours an takes a peek. He doesn't recognize her of course, on account of her lookin' a lot like a pear that got left in a lumberjack's lunchbox for about a month, an pretty quick he hears Lynch lookin' for him an has to run for it. Eventually Lynch catches up to Tony an since he bears such a striking resemblance to Rondo Hatton, Tony pretty much freezes in place long enough for Lynch to put the Vulcan Neck Pinch on 'em an he goes down like a mook wearin' cement shoes.
But by now Lynch is kinda pissed at Donald for not fixing his ugly an when he comes upon the rest of the freak show celebrating a birthday he comes unglued when they ask him to join, ya know, since he's one of them. But he doesn't LIKE being referred to as one of them, an he trashes the place like a soused up Keith Moon. About this time Tod Browning rises from the grave to sue Columbia Pictures. Then Lynch gets a hooker with more self composure than Al Gore an pays her to tell him she loves him an to massage his trunk. Elsewhere, the freak show owner (Burns) has to get Lynch to pick up the rotten broccoli stalk an get her outta there because she's croaked on him. Dead humans are rank enough, an the festering zucchini girl reeks of putrefaction an rotten mulch. Fortunately Lynch doesn't take long with the hooker an is able to dump the body discretely. Mostly. One of the midgets from the circus caught sight of it, but they're just circus freaks, what could they possibly do? Nobody asked you Tod, back in your coffin. Back at the lab, the good news is, Donald's succeeded in turning Tony into a giant venus fly trap. The bad news is, the security is a little lax an he can't seem to find him. So Donald needs Lynch to either find Tony, or a new subject. So, having flown the coop, Tony shows up at his woman's house, only he's a little different now an she can't quite put her finger on it. It's not new bell bottoms, same hair cut, no more ear rings than before an... OH MY GOD HE'S A VENUS FLY TRAP, an it's night night time. Back at the carnival, the freaks are about to mutiny on Burns, an Burns has had about enough with the kidnappings an mutants he keeps having to sneak out under cover of nightfall an he tells Lynch to clear outta there cause their business arrangement is over. Lynch tries to convince Burns that Donald's on the cusp of turning them all into the beautiful people but Burns isn't having it an Lynch has to bugger off. Then Tony squishes his way over to Hedi's place to tell her about his new species change operation an makes her take dictation about what Donald's been up to, only Lynch shows up an Tony has to squash his way out an Lynch hauls Hedi back to Castle Pleasence. Then Brian shows up an find's Hedi's dictation an he's mad as Hell an he's not about to have sex with a ficus so he makes for Donald's place before he can turn Hedi into a bean sprout. More bad news, the freaks have also had it with Lynch's busting up their birthday celebrations, an they're headed over to settle his hash as well. We'll prune it here to preserve the ending.
So this one's interesting, if nothing else. What we have here is Freaks and The Island of Lost Souls jammed into a blender. Which off hand sounds like a bit of a stretch, but it really isn't. I mean, at least if you're not vapid enough to think that anyone that's not "normal" is desperate to become so. Obviously people with elephantiasis would certainly prefer to not suffer that affliction, but many of the exhibits in the freak show are just dwarves. The idea that they'd engage in kidnappings so a crazy scientist can work on a serum to maybe someday make them average height is a little far fetched, but, it'll do. Certainly many of the other exhibits would prefer they not be in their situations, so you can rationalize that maybe the dwarves are just helping because they want to get their friends cured. Their friends, incidentally, were all real sideshow style exhibits. Not as numerous or varied as the cast of Freaks, but still very interesting. You've got mundane conditions such as the dwarfism, but also some less common conditions, such as Ichthyosis and serious skeletal deformities, so it seems like some real research went into the making of the movie. The side show atmosphere is actually pretty realistic, not just in reference to the performers, but also the canvas banners outside, the style of names given to the performers based upon their deformity, the show even has a blow off at the end. A blow off was usually something that you'd have to pay extra to see because it was so unbelievably outrageous. When in fact, it was really pretty pathetic, compared to what you'd already seen. But by then they've got your money. In any event, while my comparison may seem like an odd pairing, it is an accurate one, and it does work. Whether that makes it a good movie or not, well, lets go into that in a little more depth.
The plot is probably where the movie shines the brightest. There's a lot of movie science goin' on, an the props don't seem to make sense all of the time, but it's not bad. For the life of me I can't see the benefit of becoming part plant, but I don't suppose it's too important. I can't fathom that it's something that would be beneficial, evolutionarily speaking, but it's different, you've gotta give it that. So the plot's alright. The acting isn't real hot, Donald Pleasence is fine, although the students are certainly nothing special. They're not terrible or anything. And some are less impressive than others, but you just don't feel much or care much for any of them, and when they get turned into Brussels sprouts, you can't help but wonder why the Hell you should care. The bright spot in the acting is without question Tom Baker, who played the role of Lynch, and who later went on to play the 4th incarnation of Dr. Who. Seems like the villains are always the most interesting characters, although Donald Pleasence is supposed to be the lead villain as far as I can see, but he's not all that interesting. So the acting isn't all that great, an the lack of character development makes the protagonists interesting only when they're being turned into, or eaten by, mutant cauliflower. The settings aren't too bad. The carnival looks great, Donald's lab isn't too shabby either. Not much else to mention beyond those two, but they're the important ones anyway. The soundtrack is just plain bad. The tracks that don't sound like total chaos don't do much to enhance the mood of the movie, and some of them sound like something you'd expect the Mads from Mystery Science Theater to use if they were trying to make classical composers crack. It's really pretty terrible. Something else I'll say for it, the special effects really aren't too bad. Not fantastic, but not terrible. They certainly could have been a lot worse, trying to turn people into plants does not look like an easy task an I'd say they did a decent job with it. Tom Baker's facial deformity looks pretty decent, and the animatronic plants in Donald Pleasence's lab all look pretty good as well. But it's a little dated, it's got pacing issues, and on the whole it's a little bit dry. Recommended to fans of lower budget 70s horror, and fans of the human gene splicing sub-genre, but that's about all.