There is a scene early in Tom Stern’s and Alex Winter’s “Freaked” in which a freakish looking redheaded boy, Stuey Gluck, is flung from an airplane 7-miles above the ground. Before Stuey makes his appearance, “Freaked” appears as though it is an ode to early 80’s revue films—such as “Kentucky Friend Movie” and “Amazon Women on the Moon”; full of corny one-liners and scenes that play more like sketches than extensions of the same film, the first twenty minutes of “Freaked” does little to prepare us for the insanity that fills that remaining three-fourths of the picture.
After the success of the “Bill and Ted” films in the late-80’s/early-90’s, co-star Alex Winter, the curly haired Beavis to Keanu Reeves’s Butt-head, took a path that few actors would willingly seek out: he made a grotesque B-movie comedy.
A cross between Todd Browning’s “Freaks” and the “Garbage Pail Kids” stickers, ”Freaked” is about as far away from mainstream as an up and coming actor should have strolled, but Winter showed moxie that few actors would display by choosing such an oddball anti-Hollywood film to follow-up two blockbuster Hollywood comedies.
When cocky former child star Ricky Coogin (Alex Winter) signs a multi-million dollar contract with a nefarious corporation to promote their controversial product Zygrot-24, a green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-type ooze, he finds himself, along with his best friend, Ernie (Michael Stoyanov), and Julie (Megan Ward), a radical left-wing protestor in Freek Land, a sideshow amusement park in a run down South American country.
At Freek Land, they encounter Ejijah C. Skuggs, a PT Barnum-esque man who not only runs Freek Land, he creates the freaks who inhabit his bizarre amusement park. Skuggs (hilariously played by Randy Quaid) is quick to kidnap our three protagonists and, using the dreaded Zygrot-24, turns them into freaks.
The humor here is so absurd that, at times, it slips into the realm of surrealism, and the jokes are delivered at such a breakneck speed that most are easily overlooked, which proves a double-edged sword for Winter and crew. A constant barrage of jokes is the big problem “Freaked” encounters early on and never quite recovers from. While not every joke is laugh inducing, a surprising amount work incredibly well, but they’re paced so rapidly, that it appears there were no moments in which the writers evaluated the script and decided that some jokes should be cut—if not for lack of joviality than for the sake of pacing; there are simply too many jokes for any audience to absorb. Instead of finding and polishing the best jokes, the filmmakers chose to throw every conceivable joke out there in hopes that they’d stick. Most, however, don’t, but when they do, they hit the notes brilliantly and produce laugh out loud reactions.
Pacing ultimately proves the biggest problem ”Freaked” encounters. So obsessed with its humor and inherent weirdness, the film crawls from plot point to plot point while languishing in scenes and environments that would have worked better had the pacing been sped up. Zingers dominate the humor, but not the tone or the pacing.
A change of suits at 20th Century Fox buried “Freaked” at the box office and it quickly disappeared only to rise like a Phoenix when it premiered on video and cable television. For the past decade the film has languished in the halls of cult cinema while its devout fans have begged for its release on DVD. Anchor Bay not only heard their pleas, but also filled this 2-disc set with features that most Academy Award winning films would envy.
Finally we “Freaked” fans have a version of this film that we’ve been waiting for. Included is a commentary track with co-writers/directors Tom Stern and Alex Winter, an extremely funny video interview with writer Tim Burns (including an Easter egg with burns discussing his favorite lines from the movie), two deleted scenes, a feature length videotaped rehearsal of the entire film, and two short films by Tom Stern and Alex Winter.
Attempting to compare “Freaked” to any other movie would prove an exercise in futility. This is a singular film—a wholly originally movie that, despite its flaws, will win over the most jaded film fan simply because it is uniquely and wonderfully bizarre.