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Freaked

(Tom Stern & Alex Winter, USA, 1993)


 


Films that mix antithetical extremes of comedy and horror constitute one of the liveliest and most innovative branches of contemporary cinema.

Movies including Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988) and Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness (1993), with their ingenious special effects, cartoonish conceits and bizarre syntheses of monstrosity and merriment, have truly expanded the limits of popular entertainment.

Yet there is a further sub-genre of "sick" comedies, using fantasy and horror elements, that only ever reach the video store – and some of them are weird and wonderful indeed.

Freaked is a film for trash culture aficionados – an utterly excessive, high-energy barrage of crude jokes, bodily mutations, exaggerated sound effects, television parodies and garish art direction.

Its closest neighbour in the mainstream arena is the sublime teen fantasy Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) – unsurprisingly, since Ted (Alex Winter) is the star, co-writer and co-director of this venture, and Bill (Keanu Reeves) makes an unrecognisable guest appearance as “Dog Boy”. But it also draws inspiration from other little-known gems on video including Martians Go Home (1990) and When Nature Calls (1985).

It is the kind of comedy where even the bare plot is itself a jokey quotation of related films, from the classic Freaks (1932) to Jurassic Park (1993). Ricky (Winter) is sent to an underdeveloped South American republic to promote disgustingly toxic chemicals; soon he is himself the mutated victim of ruthless entrepreneur Elijah (Randy Quaid), and a member of a veritable gulag of grotesque freaks.

Cult comedians (including Bobcat Goldthwait) rub shoulders with pop culture icons (Brooke Shields and Mr T), as the film relentlessly mocks all clean-living values and indulges a hip line of anti-corporate satire.

Freaked runs out of steam now and again but, as trashy spectacle goes, it is riveting.

© Adrian Martin July 1994


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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