Behind the tents and tinsel of a monster midway, something barbaric occurs on the Alley of Nightmares!
Year of Release: 1967
Also Known As: Alley of Nightmares, Asylum of the Insane, Freaks!
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 83 minutes (1:23)
Director: Byron Mabe, Donn Davison
Claire Brennen ... Jade Cochran
Lee Raymond ... Blackie Fleming
Lynn Courtney ... Pat 'Moon' Mullins
Bill McKinney ... Steve St. John
Vanteen ... Al Babcock
Ben Moore ... Ben Thomas
Claude Earl Jones ... Greasy
Felix Silla ... Shorty
David F. Friedman ... Carnival Barker (uncredited)
Fed up slinging hash at a roadside diner, slinky Jade Cochran takes a job with a passing show and soon sinks her ambitious hooks into Steven St. John, owner of the sideshow exhibit. She also has an affair with Blackie, the Ferris wheel stud, and makes life miserable for Shorty, the sideshow midget.
But when Blackie kills her hubby and Jade inherits the sideshow, Shorty and his fellow "oddities" seek revenge...
She Freak, remindin' us that not only is beauty skin deep, but that skin gets even thinner when you burn it to a crisp with a human blow torch. Say what you will about the rest of the movie, but that last scene... well it's like... you ever seen the bottom of the KFC bucket when all that's left is the grease an some skin? Nevermind, forget I said that. I don't wanna go spoilin' the ending or anything cause that'd be real unprofessional. But speakin' of people who're slightly Kentucky fried, Cleave Furguson decided that he wanted to get 'imself a first season archery tag for bull elk this year so he could get one stuffed an stuck out in front of Furry Mountain Stuffing. The idea was to bag a real pitiful spike in an effort to goad all the yokels into bringin' in much bigger bulls to brag about so he could fleece 'em outta several hundred dollars for the taxidermy fees, which was a pretty foolproof plan, until things didn't go accordin' to plan. Fortunately, in Cleave's line of work, you get to know mosta the hunters in town pretty quick, an from there it's just a matter of separatin' the Daniel Boones from the Aesop Marlins til you find somebody who knows what they're doin' an won't make you listen to bad Country music while you're drivin' around scoutin'. So Cleave endin' up goin' out to Bearcrack Mountain with Duke Tankersley on openin' mornin', an bagged this dingy little 1x2 while it was tryin' to scratch its butt with the forked antler. Unfortunately, in a last ditch effort to make Cleave's life miserable, it made it all the way down to Bearcrack's taint before expirin' like Cleave's business license, which is prolly a good mile and a half from the road up above. I guess they tried loopin' the winch cable on Cleave's crummy through the Achilles tendons and draggin' it up the hill, only the cable ended up gettin' hung up on a stump, an when it finally tore out the elk's tendons the hooks came flyin' through the back window in Cleave's crummy an took out the fuzz buster on the dashboard.
That was about when they decided to head home to get some help an some clean shorts, so Billy Hilliard an I went back with 'em to drag it up the hill by hand. Wasn't as bad as I'd expected, but that's mostly cause Billy's got about twice the horse power as the engine in Cleave's tired old Bronco, an really only needed the rest of us to hold onto it when he'd stop to catch his breath. That's kinda what did us in when I think about it, cause about 10 yards from the top of the hillside the three of us were holdin' onto the carcass while Billy sucked down a coupla gallons of water, when Cleave decided to check out the damage on the legs where the tendons ripped out an... well, let's just say that the smooth terrain was just as smooth goin' downhill. I guess Duke an I prolly shoulda tied it off someplace, but we ended up losin' our grip on the rope, an about half a second later the elk was rollin' down the hill after Cleave like the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was pretty awful in retrospect, had the theme song playin' in my head an everything, but there wasn't hardly anything we could do but stand there an watch til they finally reached the bottom an Cleave hadda broad jump over to the opposite hillside like Kevin Bacon in Tremors. The elk ended up stickin' horns first into a mud hole like a lawn dart, an after that we pretty much gave up an packed it out in quarters. Wasn't much sense in tryin' to haul it up in one piece again anyway, since all its legs'd busted in the tumble an half the hide'd been peeled off by the stumps an rocks on the way down. Cleave's never been much good at lookin' on the bright side of things, but I've never in my life eaten an elk this tender. I thought this newfound meat tenderization method was a pretty important scientific discovery, but Cleave don't really care cause he's still bummed out after havin' to resort to puttin' that old stuffed Reindeer he generally only pulls out around Christmas in front of his shop. Says he's runnin' the only business on the planet that has Christmas decorations out before Wal Mart, which is kinda hard to argue, but sometimes that guy just refuses to see the good in anything.
These things always seem so much more interestin' before I try puttin' 'em into words, I guess you just hadda be there. But anyway, what we've got here is one of David Friedman's early cinematic efforts after goin' through an ugly breakup with Herschell Gordon Lewis, an I don't wanna be rude or nothin' since I haven't seen alla David's solo stuff, but if I was David, I think I'da been drunk dialin' Herschell an askin' for another chance. Basically, She Freak is an exploitation flick that never gets around to exploitin' anything, but I'll let you judge the significance of its contribution to society, startin' with some of the more important bits of wisdom it has to impart unto us. First, at a carnival, assault with a deadly weapon is considered part of the job. Second, if the fortune teller's pretendin' to be for real when she's not on the clock, there's prolly a mental institution someplace offerin' a reward for 'er capture. An third, you just haven't lived until you've borne witness to a carny courtship musical montage. In any event, I guess that despite all the nasty things people might say about this one, the carnival settin' is fun at least, right? An bein' as old as it is, we've actually got an honest to God carnival in this one, from back before OSHA an the FDA stepped in an practically made it illegal to run one. This got me to thinkin', an I decided it's high time we went over what an authentic, real American carnival looks like, specially for the kids out there that may never get to experience one the way God intended. So let's run down this list together an try to understand the inner workins of a successful carnival:
1) If you can eat the food an not hafta get up at least five times that night speed walkin' your clenched butt cheeks to the toilet, the proprietor has forgotten their roots.
2) If they've got any rides that aren't life threatenin' experiences, they're an embarrassment to their namesake.
3) If you can walk through the gamin' area without havin' to punch out at least three guys with greasy hair, knife scars, or barbed wire armband tattoos for makin' lewd remarks about your date, not a real carnival.
4) If there ain't at least one middle aged woman with skin like a leather sofa tryin' to convince teenage boys with bad acne to go behind the shootin' gallery with 'er to check out 'er bullseye, you're at a circus.
5) If you can't walk around for more than 10 minutes without seein' a trash can, you guessed it, sellout city.
6) If the clown at the dunk tank doesn't slur his curse laden speech while you're tryin' to dunk 'im, getcher hiney outta there immediately. Carny clowns may be surly alcoholics, but at least they ain't pedophiles. Friendly clowns are ALWAYS pedophiles.
7) If you're in a blue state, it's prolly not a real carnival. All your best carnivals stay south of the Mason-Dixon line on account of their owners bein' wanted for wire fraud or operatin' Ponzi schemes.
8) If you can take your eyes off the ground for more than six seconds without steppin' in vomit, congratulations, you've located Wimp City U.S.A., where no true carnival has gone before.
9) If the souvenir stand doesn't have some variety of merchandise that offends liberals, conservatives, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, women, the mentally handicapped, immigrants, the rich, the poor, and the elderly, you're at a mobile Hot Topic, not a carnival.
10) If the cotton candy machine operator is over the age of 30 an still has both hands, prepare for one big night of disappointment.
11) If the first unlocked porta potty door you open up isn't occupied by people havin' extremely disgustin' sex, absolutely not a carnival. Conversely, if that first porta potty IS occupied by fornicators doin' things that'd make Aleister Crowley barf, an they invite you to join in, you've found yourself a by God carnival.
The movie begins at a carnival, where we got all kinda phallic imagery like sword swallowin' an snake charmin' on display, at which point the deviant runnin' the sideshow starts BSin' all these white bread families who're only there cause they couldn't afford to go to Disneyland. We never get to see why everybody gathered around this cage is makin' faces like they just sat on a pepperoni pizza in their short shorts, but the barker's nice enough to help us out with a glassy-eyed drunk fade out that materializes in a diner a few weeks back. Here we've got a broad (Jade) workin' as a waitress rejectin' a patron's advances cause he's only got a $50 spendin' limit on his Mastercard, an once that loser finally gives up an goes home to his naggin' shrew of a wife, the owner (Greasy) starts hittin' on 'er til she hasta tell 'im she wouldn't grease his spoon for all the gold in Mr. T's jewelry box. Then this guy dressed like one of the Blues Brothers (Ben) comes in an tells Greasy he's with the carnival, an that if he'll put a promo poster up on the wall he'll give 'im a free pass to the pettin' zoo. Course, right about that time Jade's eyes start showin' signs of life for the first time in years, an pretty quick she's smilin' at Ben wide enough that he can see she's got no cavities in 'er wisdom teeth an inquires about work cause she wants to be able to retire someplace nice like Gibsonton, Florida one day. Ben tells 'er to stop by the trailer with the tasteful nekkid mudflap lady decals painted on the sides when the carnival shows up tomorrow, an to look for the guy who's dressed like Jim Jones (Babcock), cause he's the boss. Greasy's P.O.'d, an starts questionin' Jade's venereal hygiene til she gets fed up an slaps approximately two pints of sweat that would've otherwise ended up in somebody's burger off his face, an ends up gettin' relieved of 'er glamorous waitress lifestyle. Then we watch this montage a chaw, where the carnies set up the attractions to inoffensive airport music so the movie'll seem real classy, an the next thing you know the carnival's up an runnin', an Jade's passin' through the ticket booth gettin' 'er lips good'n pouty for 'er meetin' with Babcock. The meetin' goes real swell, an within' minutes Jade's back clearin' tables for exceptionally loud mouthed patrons. Great. Guess this's as good a time as any to learn a new trade, maybe take up chainsaw jugglin' or somethin'.
Anyway, then Jade becomes friends with the head stripper (Moon), til Crock Hudson (the ride foreman) demands to be serviced an just like that she's feelin' completely at home. So once all the carnies make it through the chow line, Jade goes on break an takes a ride on Crock's Ferris wheel so she'll be too sick to show up for 'er next shift. Then she heads over to the 10-in-1 where the sword swallower causes 'er to flashback to 'er younger years an makes 'er so sick she hasta go tell Moon all about how she hates freaks an demand to know why they're allowed to share the same workplace as a waitress of her caliber. Cept Moon can't really talk right now cause she's gotta go show off 'er namesake to a buncha fat guys in Oshkosh overalls with wheat stems stickin' outta their mouths, an once that's over they head back to their hotel room where it seems like things might finally pick up a little. Unfortunately, Jade just wants to bask in the lavishness of 'er Motel 5 cockroach suite, ask Moon how she got into the titty shakin' business, an get the inside scoop on which carny she aughta try shackin' up with based upon financial security an the statistical probability that they'll try bringin' the six legged goat from the freak show on their honeymoon. Meanwhile, the other carnies're all gettin' gobwobbled an leanin' against parked trucks so they won't fall off the world. Cept pretty quick the subject of Jade's hinder comes up, an Crock gets so P.O.'d at one of the rummies for failin' to respect the carny code an accept his formal callin' of dibs, that he hasta climb up on the truck an do a suicide plancha onto 'im an stake his hand to the ground with a screwdriver. The next day, Jade's decided she's gonna set up a man snare for Steve (the owner of the 10-in-1), so when he comes by the chow line for his cream of leftover casserole, she wets 'er lips an accommodates 'im as much as possible without doin' anything disgustin' enough to put the professional fat lady off 'er lunch. Next thing you know, Steve's takin' Jade out for dinner an tellin' all kinda bad jokes for 'er to laugh at to see if he's got a sure thing on his hands.
Then she goes home an gets 'er palm read by Olga, an Olga's kinda weirded out when Jade's hand runs outta life lines quicker'n Rick Perry on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but Jade ain't too worried about it since Olga couldn't even get a job at LaToya Jackson's psychic hotline. The next day, the carnival pulls up stakes an heads over to a new town, an once they close down for the night Crock invites Jade into the bed of his truck so she can smell what the Crock is cookin', only she gets snotty on 'im an they get into a slap fight like a coupla airheads fightin' over the last pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks, an pretty quick Jade's putty in his pants. Then we hafta sit through this bonding montage where Jade sucks up to Steve an pretends not to be the kinda girl that likes to test out the shocks in the beds of carnival grease monkeys' vehicles, til Steve finally decides to bet the bank on the idea that the blonde waitress who's been in his employ for all of a week loves 'im for his personality, an they end up goin' to find Jo Jo the Dog Faced Boy to preside over their weddin' ceremony. The next mornin', Steve's starvin' from all the room servicin' he hadda do last night, an calls up the lobby to get somebody to service him for once. Cept Jade starts havin' sex with 'im again while he's tryin' to order pancakes an hasta hang up when the front desk clerk can't figure out what he wants with Jade screamin' about "bangers" in the background. Later that night, Steve's playin' poker with some of the guys from the carnival, only he's supposed to be playin' poker with Jade's man cave, so she gets all P.O.'d while pretendin' not to be an drives over to check into Crock's truckbed an breakfast to get 'er buns jammed. Unfortunately, Shorty (the sideshow midget) smells what's goin' on an tries to tell Steve about it the next day, but Jade shows up before he can spill the beans, an runs 'im off so she can act pissy about how Steve treats the freaks like human beins with feelins, forcin' Steve to go into this equal rights speech while she starts fumin' to the point of almost refusin' to have sex with 'im. It's not until the next day that Shorty's finally able to get Steve alone an... well, Steve doesn't take it real well when Shorty tells 'im his girl's an eenie meenie miney mo lover. Seems kinda lousy to cut off the description when somethins finally on the verge of happenin', but if you've seen Freaks, you already know what happens.
Alrighty, well, in case you've ever wondered what Freaks would've been like had it refused to actually show the freaks until the last three minutes of the movie, there ya go. That alone is why it's so hard to believe that this thing was ever intended as a remake, cause the whole idea of Freaks was to make the freaks an integral part of the plot and show people that they were just plain folks and to make it clear that there was no reason to point at 'em and shriek like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers anytime you saw one at the grocery store. What we've got instead of freaks in this alleged remake, is a whole lot of assembling and disassembling of the carnival, sappy musical montages designed to help gloss over the fact that there's barely a plot, and a central character that flip flops between bein' a bitch and a sympathetic lead every 10 minutes or so. And by the time we do finally get some freak action it's pitiful enough that the reason why you'd never seen them up to that point becomes abundantly clear. I like David Friedman, don't get me wrong, but if this thing was in any way marketed as a remake of Freaks, Warner Bros shoulda sued his butt back to the stone age. Course, given how obscure it is, they prolly never knew about it until long after there was a point in taking any kind of legal action, unless the Warner executives just happened to really enjoy slumming at the drive-in. I dunno that I've ever seen a movie that comes across as being so utterly castrated in all my years of watching this stuff, so you can imagine what removing the heart and soul of the whole Freaks motif does to the pacing. Granted, it was 1967, but there are plenty of movies that Friedman made with Herschell Gordon Lewis in those days that don't slog along like this one does. Seriously, when you make a movie that has an 83 minute running time that seems to go forever, you've really screwed something up. I will concede that the IMDB is a little rough on it, probably due to a lot of people who enjoyed Freaks checking it out and bein' completely P.O.'d by the time the flick was over, but it's at least better than a 3.0 rating. I'd imagine that another contributing factor to the seething rage it generates in people is that, somehow, this movie's actually labeled as a horror movie, and... it just isn't. It's like I said, you've got a little horror in the last three minutes, but up to that point it's so bland that it's difficult to even put a label on. I went with Drama, for want of a better term. Really, the best way to describe this movie is that it's an exploitation movie, that forgets to exploit anything. We've got very little violence, no gore to speak of save for the last 30 seconds or so, no nudity, no sex, drugs, or even rock 'n roll in this thing. I'd have never believed watching it that it was produced by the same guy who produced Ilse: She Wolf of the SS, Color Me Blood Red, Two Thousand Maniacs, and Blood Feast, cause this thing's been neutered like nobody's business.
Sorry if that came off a little harsh, but it needed to be said. Now let's stuff a sword down this thing's gullet and see if it chokes. The plot is, as I said, Freaks; only with all the emphasis on the actual freaks removed in favor of a bad romance that sours faster'n a carton of milk sittin' next to a radiator. So really, it's somebody else's plot, with all the entertaining parts bein' hysterectomized. Not exactly off to a great start on points. The acting is not as bad as you might think, but there's nary a thespian among the cast who gives anything approaching a memorable performance. Technically, I guess you'd say the guy doing the sword swallowing gave the best performance since what he was doing wasn't easy, and he never once flubs his dialog. Some of the actors among the supporting cast are a bit on the lame side, but it isn't all that debilitating due to how little they're on screen. Here's who matters and why: Claire Brennen (Planet Earth), Bill McKinney (Back to the Future III, 2001 Maniacs, Hellborn, It Came from Outer Space II, Strange New World, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence, Deliverance), Claude Earl Jones (Bride of Re-Animator, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Evilspeak, Cherry 2000, Impulse), Ben Moore (The Mutilator, Two Thousand Maniacs!), Felix Silla (Return of the Jedi, Batman Returns, Spaceballs, The Brood, House, The Dungeonmaster, The Lord of the Rings 1978, The Manitou, Demon Seed, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Sssssss, Planet of the Apes), William Bagdad (The Astro-Zombies, Blood Orgy of the She-Devils), David Friedman (Retardead, Blood Feast & Blood Feast 2, Search for the Beast, An American Werewolf in Paris), Byron Mabe (I Hate My Body, The Beast that Killed Women). Bizarrely, there actually are a couple cast members that went on to better things (normally I wouldn't say that, but, well, have you been reading?), and they are as follows: Bill McKinney was Terrill in The Outlaw Wales, Kern in First Blood, and Cobb in The Shootist, with John Wayne. And Felix Sillo will definitely be best remembered for his TV roles, where he played Twiki in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Lucifer in the original Battlestar Galactica, and most notably, Cousin Itt on The Addams Family. Interestingly, Felix (according to the IMDB, anyway, not sure I buy this) maintained a secret nine year relationship with Claire Brennen, while married, and apparently fathered a child with her without his wife ever finding out. Kinda makes you wonder what happened to the kid if any of that's true, since Claire died at the age of only 43. Not tryin' to bring everybody down, it's just kinda interesting.
The special effects show up in all of three scenes in the entire movie, with only one coming before I cut off my description. We've got the screwdriver through the hand, and two freaks that are obviously not freaks at all, but simply made up to look that way. The screwdriver effect isn't bad, but being as old as it is they're still utilizing that really vibrant blood, and it pretty well looks like crap. The first made up freak is mostly just a bearded lady type person (which I guess isn't really a bad idea since you can use her hair to cover up the lousy job you did on her face), and the money shot, of course, can be seen on the cover of the DVD. For that reason there's probably not much to spoil, but that effect is prolly the best one, with the fake eyeball looking completely terrible, and the burned half of her body looking pretty decent. Not really making up much ground here, are we? The shooting locations are going to be the high point, as we've got a setting that is literally authentic. The movie was shot on location at a real carnival, and thus, looks very much like a carnival. The best thing about this is that we've at least got some neat stuff to look at while the movie's dragging, and the carnival setting does remove a little of the tedium when the pacing slows to a crawl, at least when it does so during scenes taking place at the carnival. Amusingly, one of the taglines used for the movie reads: "filmed on actual locations where it COULD have happened!", only to then have an opening disclaimer before the movie even starts assuring everyone that the events of the flick couldn't possibly have happened. I thought that was a really cute nod to the history of the sideshow, wherein you'd be immediately disappointed by what you saw once you'd paid extra to go through an additional curtain for what was known as a "blow off." So the shooting locations provide a much needed boost; but let's face it, it's too late to save it. The soundtrack is essentially perfect for a gutless, pathetic, watered down version of a classic film. Don't get me wrong, it really does match up to the tone of the movie pretty well, as it's got a very carefree feel about it, I'm just still a little bitter. The music is really dated, and very much a product of the 1960s, and ranges from the kinda nonthreatening tunes you'd hear in an elevator, to stuff with an actual beat that I'd liken to those really bad beach movies they used to make where a buncha white kids frolicked in a wholesome American fashion. A lot of horns and percussion in there, but whether you enjoyed the movie or not, I find it difficult to argue that the soundtrack is appropriate, and, apparently, adds to the atmosphere they were hoping to achieve. Overall, this barely constitutes a horror movie, if it does so at all, and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody that would listen to my recommendations. Completists will check out everything regardless of public opinion, but really, there's nothing to see here.