aka THE MUTATIONS
(UK - 1974)
Directed by Jack Cardiff. Written by Robert D. Weinbach and Edward Mann. Cast: Donald Pleasence, Tom Baker, Brad Harris, Julie Ege, Michael Dunn, Scott Antony, Jill Haworth, Olga Anthony, Lisa Collings, Tony Mayne, Molly Tweedlie, Kathy Kitchen, Fran Fullenwider, Lesley Roose, Fay Bura, Willie "Popeye" Ingram, Esther "Alligator Girl" Blackmon, Hugh "Pretzel Boy" Baily, Felix "Frog Boy" Duarte. (R, 92 mins)
THE FREAKMAKER, the premiere offering from DiabolikDVD's new partnership with the reactivated VHS-era label Vidcrest (because physical media is dead), is a dreary and often repugnant British body-horror film that was somehow picked up by Columbia and released in the US as THE MUTATIONS. Under either title, it's dull, tacky, and unpleasantly gross, though one can imagine some potential if retroactively looking at it as a DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS remake if directed by David Cronenberg. But it's also a pseudo-remake of Tod Browning's FREAKS (including a "one of us" invocation), and its exploitative use of real-life circus freaks, some of whom are billed with their circus names, is queasy enough to make the climax of THE SENTINEL look like a model of sensitivity, and on top of that, the film's two disparate storylines never really gel. Even on a technical level, it's an ugly mess, which is surprising since it's directed by Oscar-winning BLACK NARCISSUS cinematographer Jack Cardiff (1914-2009), who would occasionally helm his own films, even earning a Best Director Oscar nomination for 1960's SONS AND LOVERS. And though it wasn't a big hit in its day, Cardiff's best-known work as a director is 1968's ferocious "men on a mission" mercenary adventure DARK OF THE SUN, a cult classic now rightfully regarded as one of the best action movies of a decade jam-packed with them.
Fourth Doctor on BBC's DOCTOR WHO), his drooling, horribly-deformed henchman who keeps clinging to Nolter's empty promises that he'll "fix" him. Nolter's botched experiments are either disposed of by Lynch or sold to a demeaning traveling circus where they're part of the freakshow hosted by dwarf Burns (SHIP OF FOOLS Oscar-nominee and THE WILD WILD WEST villain Michael Dunn, in one of his last films), as they slowly plot a FREAKS-esque revolt against their continued mistreatment. One of Nolter's students, Tony (Scott Antony) starts snooping around after hours and is abducted by Lynch and taken to Nolter, who promptly turns him into a half-man/half-Venus Flytrap. That understandably doesn't fly with Tony's girlfriend Lauren (Jill Haworth), and their friend Hedi (Julie Ege), who's just started fooling around with visiting American botanist Brian, improbably played by muscular '60s peplum star Brad Harris, whose long intro arriving at the airport is accompanied by Lauren and Hedi fawning over him and cooing from a distance about how good-looking he is, an idea no doubt suggested to Cardiff by co-producer Brad Harris.
FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS. Both were among several films released after the busy character actor died in his sleep in August 1973 at just 38 while working on Anthony Harvey's THE ABDICATION. In a film where nearly everything is handled as badly as possible, Cardiff at least has the sense to include some gratuitous nudity from the stunning Ege, so if nothing else, it does get something right.
THE FREAKMAKER, under its US title THE MUTATIONS,
opening in Toledo, OH on 9/27/1974