A Special Effects Showcase

by Donato Totaro Volume 1, Issue 9 / November 1997 3 minutes (571 words)

Freaked is an offbeat, somewhat juvenile contemporary rehash of Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932) and Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932). The film is played completely for laughs, with some satirical jabs at corporate America (the portable board of governors is literally puppets on a string who are collectively manipulated by a lever at the president’s chair to motion accordingly!). A huge corporation, EES (Everything Except Shoes) buys teen idol Ricky Dugan (Alex Winter of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Stephen Herek, 1989) to promote their toxic fertilizer in a fictitious South American country. Dugan, along with his best friend and potential love interest are lured into a freakshow by a series of luridly enticing billboards. Before long they are turned into mutants by the same toxic product manipulated in the dastardly hands of the freakshow gatekeeper, Skuggs, played with much relish by a bearded, Buffalo Bill-like Randy Quaid. The film is a showcase for the special makeup effects (and some computer work) of Steve Johnson, David Allen, the Chiodo Brothers ( Killer Klowns from Outer Space (Stephen Chiodo, 1988) and Screaming Mad George. It is similar in tone to The Guyver (Screaming Mad George, Steven Wang, 1992) but better written and paced. The film is most derivative of Lost Souls (with Quaid as Dr. Moreau) and Freaks [group solidarity among the freaks, the presence of a bearded lady (Mister T) and Pinhead] but recalls other genre films as well. It touches on three Peter Jackson films: Bad Taste (1988) in its dramatic use of gigantism (big guts and protruding butts); Brain Dead (1992) in its hectic moments of lunacy and protracted gore (vomiting and puss ejection) and Meet the Feebles (1989) with its backstage camaraderie); Basketcase 2 & 3 (Frank Henenlotter, 1990, 1992), Toxic Avenger (Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Hertz 1985), and even the animated Animal Farm (John Halas, Joy Batchelor, 1955) in its scenes of mutiny and revolution.

The only menacing freak is the Toad Man, first introduced as a threat to the three leads when they first enter the side-show, and throughout the film with his long tongue used to snare prey (first a rabbit, later an airplane, politely spitting out the propeller!). The remaining freaks form a somewhat unified collective, with the funniest, by far, being the slightly neurotic Sockhead man, voiced to perfection by the inimitable Bobcat Golthwaite. Mister T plays a sensitive Bearded Lady; Dugan’s best friend Ernie (Michael Stoyanov ) and the film’s love interest Julie (Megan Ward) become fused together as Siamese twins who behave like the Three Stooges; the worm man is the brains of the group; and Keanu Reeves makes an unbilled cameo as Dogman. Brooks Shields as the talk show host in the framing story is completely inappropriate, simply because she isn’t a good enough actress to play a reflexive role of this nature. The film moves quickly, which keeps it from ever getting dull but at times detracts from the art design, which often disguises a visual joke in the form of signs, graffiti, etc. Camera position is cleverly used for comic effect (shot with rabbit in extreme foreground and Toad Man in background and his tongue snapping the rabbit up). There are too many throwaway jokes and hit and misses but at least it thinks visually (ie. the cheap gag where two homosexuals leave before the show begins when Quaid suggests that any sensitive people should immediately leave; or the visual pun of a ratchet mutating into a hammer).


Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK), is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a longstanding member of AQCC (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma).

Volume 1, Issue 9 / November 1997 Film Reviews   comedy   genre_horror   horror