“The Freakmaker” is a fun, turn your brain off type of film that pushes deep messages which feel too serious for the content.
A Scientist employs sideshow workers to kidnap young people for his cross-species experiments. Let’s dig into 1974’s “The Freakmaker”, directed by Jack Cardiff!
As I See It
The type of film you watch after a long night of drinking in the east village, finding your way into a ten-seat theater that smells like cigarettes and stale beer.
The opening time lapse photography created by Ken Middleham is reminiscent of a Saul Bass film, which resonates harmoniously once I dig into Middleham’s CV and see his credit for the insect sequences in Bass’s 1974 cult hit Phase IV.
The first act is dense and filled with metaphor and symbolism that never unfurls on screen. Most of the film feels like one big scene that loops back on itself over and over. There are some real enjoyable gaffes, such as feeding a rabbit to a carnivorous plant and the corpse that comes out of a man-eating plant towards the end. The sideshow “freaks” add layers of paint to an already resplendent canvas. You know what happens when you mix too many colors, you get a bile like muddy green or brown.
From the deep metaphors to the absurd science experiment, to the hired sideshow performer henchmen, the story though simple enough never gets grounded. The poignancy of the monologue laid out early on isn’t reconciled. It’s the sideshow performers who find an ethical conflict with the actions of their leader, kidnapping co-eds, who end up pinning down the moral center. They are after all still human, which may be the most affecting realization as the mad scientist strives to blend humans and plants but results in murderous man eating venus fly trap monsters.
A last note which bears no weight within the rest of the story is Professor Nolter’s (Pleasance) postulating that his work would realize the ability to clone dinosaurs in the somewhat near future. A line that foreshadows if not inspires the very plot of Jurassic Park.
The world’s most famous failed psychiatrist for the criminally insane, Doctor Loomis himself, Donald Pleasance is the mad scientist but sees little screen time I would assume for budgetary reasons, though he does have a bulky metaphorical monologue.
You won’t recognize him in his Elephant Man-like face prosthetic, but Tom Baker, the scarf wearing fourth doctor of Doctor Who fame, stars as the leader of the sideshow performers.
Of Gratuitous Nature
Though not overt, they deemed it necessary for all the women to be naked for the experiments. For science, of course.
Jill Haworth as the sometimes pig-tailed Lauren is unmeasurably cute. She began her career as director Otto Preminger’s muse and sadly passed at the age of 65 in 2011.
Ripe for a Remake
With a Raimi-esque treatment, the colorful menagerie could really pop on the screen and could be an instant cult classic. Something screams Troma to me. Maybe it’s the abundance of green, the color which I immediately associate with the church of the Toxic Avenger.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
Vidcrest released a slipcovered Blu-ray which can be had over at Diabolik DVD, or you can stream it on Amazon Prime under the original title The Mutations.