"Think of the glorious creatures of the future to be induced
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 10/12/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Is there any more enduring stereotypical character within the horror genre than the mad scientist with altruistic visions of improving the overall lot of mankind? And they always seem to share the same philosophy of in terms of the `need to break a few eggs to make an omelet', or, the need of the many outweighs the need of the few as an impetus for their actions...The Freakmaker (1973), aka The Mutations, co-written by Edward Mann (Island of Terror, Hot Pants Holiday) and Robert D. Weinbach (Hot Pants Holiday), and directed by Jack Cardiff, whose better know for his cinematography on such films like The African Queen (1951) and Death on the Nile (1978), stars Donald Pleasence (Circus of Horrors, Halloween, Escape from New York) as Professor Nolter, teacher, scientist, and all around first class nutter. Also appearing is Tom Baker (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, "Doctor Who"), Brad Harris (Goliath Against the Giants, King of Kong Island), Julie Ege (The Final Programme, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires), Scott Antony (Dead Cert), Jill Haworth (The Haunted House of Horror, Tower of Evil), Olga Anthony (Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter), and the diminutive (only in size) Michael Dunn, who played Dr. Miguelito Loveless in the 60s television show "The Wild Wild West".
After a brief intro from the director, the film starts proper with about five minutes of footage featuring sped up visuals of plants growing, accompanied by some really odd music. After this we're in a lecture hall where Professor Nolter is discussing mutations, both of the natural and induced kind, along with providing examples in terms of carnivorous plants (there's an exceptionally strong sense of foreshadowing going on here). As the class ends, we meet four of the students in Tony (Antony), his girlfriend Lauren (Haworth), Hedi (Ege), and Bridget (Anthony), who splits off from the rest of the group (permanently, as we'll soon see). Oh look, a wee man (Dunn) is posting ads proclaiming a carnival in town, one featuring a freak show...anyway, Bridget gets abducted by a masked figure and ends up at Professor Nolter's home/laboratory, which includes an assortment of grotesque-looking plant life...he doesn't seem to recognize her (I guess she wasn't a very good student), and Nolter and his facially deformed kidnapper acquaintance, named Lynch (Baker), prepare her for some kind of experiment by taking all her clothes off...homina homina...now we're at the airport as our three, plucky remaining students are picking up a visiting dignitary/researcher named Brian (Harris), who quickly latches on to the sweetmeat Hedi (who could blame him), proving that English girls are, in fact, easy. Professor Nolter and Brian are colleagues of sorts, and after getting the grand tour of Nolter's lab and accomplishments (where's Bridget?), Brian hooks back up with the gang as they make their way to the carnival, the highlight being the freakshow. Afterwards, a suspicious Tony returns to the carnival after closing, only to get caught by Lynch, who it turns out, is part owner (along with Burns, played by Dunn). Seems Lynch and Professor Nolter have some sort of arrangement which I won't reveal, but let's just say the Professor will have a few less term papers to grade this semester...as the Professor continues to get his freak on, quite literally, Brian picks up where Tony left off, provoked by the recent disappearance of Hedi, leading up to a spectacular finale, where everyone gets exactly what they deserve, more or less...
In terms of sleazy exploitation horror/science fiction films, The Freakmaker is a real standout, in my opinion. The story is fairly solid, although slow going at times, and features a strong subplot (reminiscent of Tod Browning's 1932 film Freaks) with regards to Lynch and his association with his sideshow employees (he doesn't see himself as one of `them') that fits in nicely with the rest of the tale. Pleasence presents an interesting, Dr. Moreau like character, with a clearly defined vision, even though his methods are highly suspect (at least he gets results). One thing I did find a little bothersome with his character was that generic European accent (sounded Germanic) he used throughout. I'm not sure why he didn't just speak in his normal voice, but that's just an aesthetic quibble on my part. I was intrigued by his theories, and his conceptualization of the ideal organism...why wait for nature to take its course, when one has the ability to induce desired mutations? There was no contemplation here with regards to ethical questions normally raised as to while one may have the knowledge and ability to do something, but does that mean it should be done? Damn the consequences, I want my mutants! I thought Baker also did very well, the drooling, facially deformed antagonist driven by the desire to have something which most take for granted, willing to go to any means to obtain it...there are some decent shocks to be had here, along with some disturbing sequences, all highlighted by one of the more bizarre soundtracks I've heard in awhile, some of it coming off as futuristic flamenco music, but it did work for the material, proving the worth of trying something different. Overall, for the type for movie this is, I thought the production values decent. Some of the effects may seem low rent, but that doesn't mean they weren't effective. Also, a bit of the nekkidness didn't hurt at all (Jill Haworth and Olga Anthony certainly had the goods). My favorite scene from the film involves Professor Nolter and his casual feeding technique of one of his carnivorous plants, proving plants, unlike felines, aren't very finicky...
This is my first purchase of a Subversive Cinema release, and I have to say, I'm very impressed. I got a feeling here that the people who put this DVD together are fans of the film (and films in general), given the overall quality involved, and appreciate the value and potential of the DVD format. The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) looks clean, although some of the colors do seem saturated, but, given the film hasn't been available in any format for the last 25 years, I got over it...there are four audio tracks, including the original mono, a stereo version, and two commentary tracks, one featuring the director Jack Cardiff, and another with producer/writer Robert D. Weinbach and actor Brad Harris. The well thought out extras include extensive bios, a still gallery, a featurette titled `The Freakmaker' (26:04), reproductions of three lobby cards, a decent sized replica of an original theatrical poster for the film, and a hidden feature allowing one to access an alternate credit sequence. There are also trailers, one for this film, along with other Subversive DVD releases (or soon to be released) like Blue Murder (1995), The Candy Snatchers (1973), Battlefield Baseball (2003), The Gardner (1975) aka Seeds of Evil, and Metal Skin (1994). Given the amount of attention given to this odd, cinematic curio, I'm looking forward to more releases from Subversive, as they seem to know how to do it right.
Nathaniel | Essex | 02/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Known by another name in the UK this is a gloriously mish mash of Browings "The Freaks" remade in the early 70's. It can't be rated higher but is still worth a look with some of the daftest monsters ever and enough nudity and flared trousers to make up for the plot holes.
Insane in the best possible way...it's a personal favourite any a truly top 10 guilty pleasure"