So what we have here is the story of a mad scientist (who doesn’t look all that mad until you get to know him) who’s abducting comely young co-eds to play with their…genetic superstructures…in an attempt to make a hybrid plant / human entity.
Man, the lengths they went to in the seventies….
But anyway, as with any project of such a mind-shattering magnitude, there are lots of failures, and these failures are disposed of in the only sensible fashion.
And no, it has nothing to do with a woodchipper, a couple barrels of lye, and a good alibi.
They’re disposed of by enrolling them in the local circus sideshow.
A freak show, not to gild the lily.
One of the first things you’ll likely notice about “The Freakmaker” is that the cast list reads like a veritable who’s who in b-movies and cult phenomena. I mean, come ON! The real heavy hitters are here, even if you don’t recognize them.
And don’t feel too bad if you don’t–most of them have been either dead or out of play for years.
But damn…if you understand the references you’re going to be just utterly FLOORED. Most horror mavens will be familiar–intimately–with Donald Pleasance and the sad, sorry mess that that poor guy went through with the last “Halloween” as his final appearance in film as Dr. Loomis.
But Dr. Who’s own Tom Baker is here.
And so is the ORIGINAL Doctor Arliss Loveless from the ORIGINAL Wild Wild West series, back before they conned Kevin Kline into crossdressing for ninety minutes and Will Smith tried to prove he was STILL The Fresh Prince at heart.
The first five minutes look like a nature documentary–lots of time lapse photography of plants and mushrooms and suchlike growing and blooming and laying down roots for reasons that I really don’t follow. It’s really sort of a roundabout way to introduce the concept of freaks.
The prediction of ten years to clone a dinosaur is a bit off–thanks to “The Freakmaker” we get an idea that Michael Crichton isn’t the visionary science fiction genius the hype suggests he is–but not by TOO much.
On the good side, it’s great to have a movie so driven by plot available. This is almost totally reliant on plot and character, with barely a handful of special effects to be seen. Plus, the restoration process is nothing short of amazing. I’ve long since given up on movies made before 1985–the video quality is often so lousy (especially since it’s frequently only available on VHS) that it’s nearly unwatchable. But Subversive Cinema has managed to make a movie totally unavailable since the eighties available right now, and in a thoroughly legible format.
Which, frankly, is a great day for video store guys everywhere.
Video stores have been pressed for space for years. The advent of simultaneous DVD / VHS rentals has forced video stores to essentially maintain two sections of releases for movies taken from the new release wall. One section for the DVD releases, and one for the VHS. This kind of double-releasing, and its demands on space, has forced video stores to divest of some titles to make room for the new. Most often, the titles condemned to the sales rack are older, VHS only titles.
Which means a lot of the old movies you used to be able to find are no more.
Thanks to processes like Subversive’s, a lot of old movies formerly relegated to sales racks will see a whole new life.
On the bad side, “The Freakmaker” is a bit long winded. In fact, its science is almost TOO good, and every concept is explained in such minute detail that one begins to wonder if it’s not possible to get course credit for watching this somewhere.
Not to mention the fashion sense…that jacket at the thirty two minute mark is so loud it’s actually getting color distortion on a perfectly good twenty seven inch Philips.
The ending is frankly a bit abrupt, but just deranged enough to preserve the unnatural, scary overall tone.
The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, cast and crew biographies, lobby cards (which as I understand it are small posters, though there’s a fair chance I’m wrong), DVD credits, and trailers for “Blue Murder”, “The Candy Snatchers”, “The Freakmaker”, “Battlefield Baseball”, “Metalskin”, and “The Gardener”.
All in all, “The Freakmaker” shows us what went right and what went wrong with early b-movies. But perhaps more importantly, “The Freakmaker” represents a whole new opportunity for us to get back those movies we knew and relished in the past.