Thursday, November 26, 2015

In short: The Freakmaker (1973)

aka The Mutations

University professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence putting on what I think is supposed to be a German accent that comes and mostly goes) is maybe a tiny bit mad. His fascination with genetic mutations and plants has led him to the belief that natural mutations are dangerous - and probably somewhat disquieting to the ordered mind, one assumes – and that humanity truly needs a bit of controlled mutating – and plant genes.

To further the cause of scientific (ha!) obsession, Nolter has brought circus freak show boss Lynch (Tom Baker) under his thumb by promising to some day cure his acromegaly with his future genetic super science. So now, Lynch acquires students (predominantly some going to Nolter’s own classes, because master criminality is hard) for Nolter to experiment on, and Nolter sometimes uses Lynch’s show to park his failed experiments. Which isn’t ideal when some of these experiments still got faces and friends in town, but then, these villains are idiots.

I have no idea what went wrong here. By all rights, The Freakmaker should be a perhaps silly but enjoyable piece of mad science horror. After all, it features Pleasance, Baker, and even good old Brad Harris as the nominal romantic lead, and was directed by Jack Cardiff, who has some excellent and a lot of competent work in his filmography.

Alas, nobody seems to have told the people involved about their talents, so Pleasence seems bored, Baker is hindered by his stupid make-up, and Harris goes through his scenes with a perpetual expression of embarrassment . And Cardiff? Well, he spends about half of the film dragging his feet with filler. This is a movie that starts with five minutes of archive footage of plants, continues with another five minutes of a dubious lecture by Pleasence, and often seems much more comfortable not actually showing anything of interest. Then there’s a sub-plot that’s a completely incompetently handled and misguided rip-off of Browning’s Freaks, just without feeling the need to include any of that film’s humanity.

There are a few scenes that show potential for a slightly uneasy bit of exploitational fun, like the short bit where Baker visits a prostitute (whom seems to have suspiciously low rates) and pays her to tell him she loves him, or the hilarious yet macabre man-plant thing that just happens in the film’s final twenty minutes. Not surprisingly, a couple of promising scenes do not a good film make; in The Freakmaker’s case, they also don’t make an entertaining one.

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