“Freakout” is astoundingly funny. More of a comedy than a horror flick, it’s genuinely original without being pretentious, and sarcastic without being contemptuous of classic horror clichés. Dan Palmer and Christian James have a knack for comedy that smacks of professional filmmaking and severely artistic screenwriting. Like Shaun of the Dead, “Freakout” is both a real film and a film about films; no slasher flick is off limits as Palmer and James pick apart the absurdity of the motives of killers and the plots of bad seventies and eighties horror like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Friday the 13th”, and “Halloween”. Instead of being another awful independent gore fest, “Freakout” has a distinctive flavor that reminds me more of Peter Jackson’s early works “Bad Taste” and “Dead Alive”. The humor is off the wall, the characters are exaggerated, but everything is likeable and lively despite the massive deaths and morbid subject matter. Also to their advantage is that Palmer and James are British; their senses of humor are of a cartoonish fun that is rare in horror and virtually non-existent in American cinema. Like “Shaun of the Dead”, it’s a film that gives a new cultural spin on the comedy inherent in ridiculous horror films. Thank god for the British, they are a much-neglected source of amazing horror (since the Hammer films dried out we haven’t really seen much of them, but then “28 Days Later” came along and we remembered that they’re just as messed up as the Americans).
Merv (James Heathcote) is a character many film geeks can identify with; he lives at home with his grandmother, and he knows way too much about horror films. When Mervin finds a real escaped psycho traipsing around his bathroom, he knows that this is an opportunity too good to pass up. With his best friend Onkey, Merv sets out to create the perfect slasher out of ‘Looney’. Looney, effeminate and odd, is the least likely candidate for a slasher, but Merv, with his infinite knowledge of serial killers, won’t give up. As usual, the whole thing turns into a nightmare, culminating with a huge party scene, a mall chase, and some very cool deaths.
Heathcote is a subtle actor and comedian with a very hard job; he carries the story. If his performance ever faltered, I never noticed. His friend Onkey, played by the disturbingly sexy Dan Palmer, is the exaggerated funnyman to foil Mervin’s “boy next door” quality. Palmer has created something special in the character of Onkey; he’s the kind of character that would work in any genre. Smart and relatively inoffensive, Onkey is worth watching even if the rest of the film was a disaster. A disaster it is not. “Freakout” is the most fun I’ve had watching independent horror in a long time.
The amazing job of editing Christian James has done on “Freakout” is commednable. By actually possessing editing skills he has taken this film out of the microcinema realm and placed it on par with indies like “Shaun of the Dead”, “Haute Tension”, and “London Voodoo”. In other words, this is a film to be taken seriously. The cinematography and the direction betray the talent behind Christian James and his horde of gifted partners. It is his clever multitudes of camera angles and detailed, meticulous shots that zoom this film far beyond other independent horror.
Horror is hard, comedy is harder. With a storyline that is fast paced, energetic, and witty, it’s hard not to enjoy “Freakout”. Palmer and James play on every stupid formulaic plotline ever used in horror, as well as many cheesy film techniques. Christian James has mastered the art of the tacky music montage. These guys know horror, and how to exploit it, mock it, and enjoy it. More importantly, they are incredible comedic talents.
“Freakout” is a buddy film, a slasher flick, a parody, a comedy, and a coming of age story all rolled into one. Obviously, it has to be strange. Films that remind me of “Freakout”? “Student Bodies”, “An American Werewolf in London”, “Dead Alive”. The things they have in common? A particularly fun story and some very over-the-top actors. Any film that exploits Larry Hagman, writers of “Matrix” fan fiction, and movies that involve the word “Pirhana” in the title instantly deserves credit for originality. Originality without talent, however, is just embarrassing, and thankfully, Palmer and James have proven themselves not only amazingly funny, but talented filmmakers. Bravo.