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Freakmaker, The - Subversive Cinema - DVD Print E-mail
User Rating: / 3
Written by Jay Creepy   
Tuesday, 29 March 2016


AKA: The Mutation, Das Labor des Grauens, Estranhas Mutacoes, Dr of Evil, Mutations, Mutacje

Directed by: Jack Cardiff
Written by: Edward Mann, Robert Weinbach.
Produced by: Robert Weinbach, Brad Harris.
Cinematography by:Paul Beeson
Editing by: John Trumper
Special Effects by: Mike Hope, Charles E Parker
Music by: Basil Kirchin, Jack Nathan.
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Tom Baker, Brad Harris, Julie Ege, Jill Haworth, Michael Dunn, Fay Bura, Scott Antony
Year: 1974
Country: UK
Language: English
Color: Color
Runtime: 1 h 32min

Distribution: Subversive Cinema

I remember when I was a little boy, my Mum and Dad used to watch so many horrors and odd films, either rented from the shops nearby, or shown on late night BBC. I became a big fan of 70s films via this portal, called the TV every night. 60s, 70s and the very new video nasties they hired.

For some reason they used to really criticize poor Donald Pleasence and his acting ability. “The Americans like him.” my Dad used to say. He didn't like Ralph Bates either. I never did find out why.

Now I'm a lot older, I do like Donald and his quirky style of acting. He doesn't seem to change his voice or mannerisms at all. It’s kind of like a more well-known Brian (Alien 3, American Werewolf in London) Glover who shouted his way through every part he had. Donald Pleasence featured in over 200 films and so no wonder you have a good chance of spotting him in near enough any film you pick up and watch from that era. Usually in smaller roles, this time around, his part as Professor Nolter carries the whole film. Not bad considering he's sharing screen time with Tom (Dr. Who, Vaults of Horror) Baker, gleefully acting under a rather brilliant facial deformity mask of latex, and Brad Harris who featured in many things including Dallas, Falcon's Crest, The Girl in 2A, and many more.

The beginning titles for The Freakmaker are very long, drawn out and frustrating. Using time lapse photography, it shows the birth and the cycle of fungi and flowers, accompanied by very thudding terrifying music by Basil Kirchin, a legendary man in the circles of experimental tunes. It certainly outstays its welcome after five minutes!

“This is not a flower, it is an animal.” we hear the voice of Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence) as the film he is showing students at the university he lectures, concentrates on the Venus Fly Trap and the Cobra Plant. He gives an in-depth breakdown of how they exist. “You may think you are normal, but you're the product of a mutation.” he describes evolution and the changes in a species to survive. “Within ten years through time, frozen amino acid strains, we could have a living dinosaur.” Many students smirk at this, and his view on cloning.

We are in the colourful era of England in the 70s, and there's a midget pasting up an advert for a carnival freak-show. He watches and follows one of the girls, called Bridget, through a park. A dwarf is nearby and he also begins to follow. She realises this and runs into the arms of Mr. Lynch, played by Tom Baker.

“When will you make me better, Professor?” he asks Nolter, afterwards Professor Nolter gives no reply. Lynch is part of the freak-show and has Bridget hidden in his wagon. Meanwhile, we see Nolter feeding a rabbit to a plant which is quite unexpected and disturbing.

Cutting into a plant to insert a leaf, the branch actually pours with blood. Bridget is brought into the lab and laid out upon an operating table. Lynch strips her. “Inside her is the key to life.” Nolter sees her waking up so puts her under.

A trio of characterless young students are waiting at the airport for Brian Redford, some expert dude. We have Tony, traditional smartass kid, Lauren, and Heidi (Julie Ege who starred in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and Creatures the World Forgot) Brian catches the eyes of Heidi instantly. Lauren is going out with dickhead, Tony.

During the next days lecture, Brian sits in, rather impressed by Nolter's views and his visual reversal of decay in an orange. “The possibilities are endless.” says Nolter. “Imagine a species,” he continues, “made up of plant and animal. Use your imagination. Plants able to move to better ground, animals able to harness the sun directly. Absorbing nourishment through exposure to light.”

Walking outside together, Redburn asks Nolter, “What you were saying, do you believe it?” Of course Nolter does, he figures by DNA the transformation could happen in a day. He invites Brian to his home. The Professor feels it is his calling to save humanity from starvation, etcetera. Redburn is visually shocked by the species of plant mutations in the lab, but is mortified by the feeding of another rabbit to the Little Shop of Horrors creature. Their discussion lightens his mood however, and Nolter claims he wishes to merge plant and man as a hybrid.

The student gang begins to ponder the whereabouts of Bridget, and whilst discussing the Professor, Redburn is quick to defend him against Tony, and criticizes the student's lack of scientific imagination. Later that night they all head to the carnival, then to Burns & Lynch's Freakshow. Inside they are entertained by many wonders such as the Monkey Woman, 'Popeye' and the Human Pin Cushion, as Lynch watches from the far corner. As Alligator Woman described her ridged skin and her ex marriage, my Horror Soulmate commented, “She's into rough sex.” which cracked us up for a while.

The extra side attraction is the Lizard Woman, for 10p more, you can see her privately. People go behind the curtains and come out shaking or sobbing. Our gang have to have a look. Mr. Burns, the midget show host, is taking payments and they notice his medallion which is just like the one Bridget wore. When asked where he got it, he refuses them entry. Afterwards, Lynch tears the medallion from him with a mass of insults.

Nolter meets with Lynch explaining he needs one more specimen, a man, a good looking man. “Unlike me.” mumbles Mr Lynch, “You'll fix that, won't you?” As coincidence has it, Tony sneaks back to the tent to view the Lizard Woman. Lynch stalks him through the night until the chase is on.  Tony ends up under the knife, as Nolter wishes to bring his hybrid dream into reality.

Back at the carnival, Lynch shows his distaste for his working colleagues and smashes up their meal and drinks when they raise a toast to him. “One of us!” After the outburst, he drives in the night and, tormented by their voices in his head, he calls on a girl called Suzanne. She pulls his hat off. “No!” he cries. She isn't too upset. “I've seen all sorts, it's OK love.” Lynch wants her to talk and tell him how much she loves him. This scene captures what a tragic figure Mr. Lynch is. Hating himself so much and very lonely. Tom gives sympathy to a rather evil person.

Back at the lab, the Professor's new creation has broken loose. Tony makes his way back to Lauren who is petrified. The police arrive, driven by her screams. The mutated Tony escapes the apartment. Lauren has lapsed into a coma like shock, unable to speak.

The Freakshow residents are becoming restless and are turning against Mr. Lynch. Burns confronts Lynch. He says he is taking the carnival and will not help anymore. Lynch is livid and goes to collect another specimen. Then in a brief scene, we see what Tony has become, as he consumes a hobo by a bridge. Then he heads off to seek his friends

What could have looked absolutely ridiculous is treated seriously by the cast, director and FX. The final ten or so minutes seem rather rushed, but is small criticism in an almost perfect time capsule. It's a moment in films over a decade where anything went -- the ideas were unpredictable and mad, and if it didn't work, to hell with it, do it anyway, make use of the cast and cool locations instead. 

The Freakmaker uses a lot of real life deformities as did Tod Brownings epic, Freaks, and afterwards the fourth season of American Horror Story. Most cannot act, but do their best. Donald Pleasence steals the show with his sleepy voice, working well into the heavy atmosphere of the mood.

The musical score is extremely low-key and unsettling throughout, like a thudding heartbeat. As stated at the start, the man behind such noises was a wise choice.

The Subversive Cinema DVD suffers with fuzzy muffled sound. The volume has to be pumped way up to enjoy. However, the extras are OK, with a featurette and commentary, with a decent section of trailers.

The Freakmaker isn't an epic by any lengths, however it is a highly enjoyable excursion into an era of low budget films that had to rely of stories and ideas.



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 Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16:9
 Region: NTSC R1
 Audio: Dolby Digital Mono

 – Commentary with Jack Cardiff, Robert Weinbach, Brad Harris
 – Featurette
 – Stills Gallery
 – Trailers

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3.22 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

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