Friday, February 20, 2009

Freaking Beautiful!

Dr. Who, the fourth incarnation...

Dr. Loomis, the one and only...

...together in the same movie?

Are you fucking kidding me?

Are you yanking my chain, son?

Not today I ain't.

Yes, folks, it's The Freakmaker, more popularly known as The Mutations, one of my favorite genre films of all time.

Unlike Alex Winter's Freaked, which was much too self-consciously weird and caught none of Todd Browning's atmosphere of menace and tragedy, Jack Cardiff's little classic of '74 crept into cinemas (no, shuffled!) and gave audiences what they'd been missing for forty years -- authentic freakshow magic.

And he did it with the help of British heavyweights Donald Pleasence, close to the greatest genre actor of all time, and Mr. Tom Baker, my favorite scarf-wearing doctor of the original era.

And is that a scarf I see on Baker's "Lynch" , the tragic hero of the film?

You betcha!

I first stumbled upon The Mutations, as it was known in Australia, when my brother and I snuck into the city to to get up to no good. Part of our no good was visiting the cinemas and staring at the lobby cards for upcoming releases. Another part of no good was figuring out ways to acquire them (we never did).

Outside the Hoyts Midcity Cinema in Bourke St., Melbourne, the three lobby cards below caught our attention, to put it mildly.

What the hell WAS that?

My God, it's so... beautiful...

Mad Scientist and his Freak Assistant.

We HAVE to see this?

The "R" rating at the bottom of the poster rained hard on our parade.

I'd have to wait six years to see it.

My brother would have to wait my six and another two.

We could always shoot ourselves. Or get someone else to do it.

When I did finally see the film many, many years later in an uncut, restored edition, it worked its way like a crawling hand into my heart.

A scene that captures the essence of why I love fantasy cinema is when Lynch, who has never been with a woman, visits a prostitute, who is then repelled by his appearance.

All he wants from her is tenderness.

Director Jack Cardiff, who was born in 1914, photographed The African Queen, Conan The Destroyer, Black Narcissus, Rambo - First Blood Part II and Death on the Nile before directing a handful of excellent films including the offbeat The Girl on a Motorycycle ('69) and Sons and Lovers ('60).

The Freakmaker was his last directorial effort.


  1. Well done on another great week of blogs, Phantom.

    Your stuff is always evocative, but you have suceeded in opening up a part of my mind that has been closed for a long time. I guess that is something Cronenberg always did well (up until 'Spider', that is- after that, the less said the better) but you seem to have struck a chord for me, and encouraged me to look into some fairly dark corners. Usually the sign of a good writer, but always the sign of a good bloggist.

    Congrats- yours is a cut above the rest, and I only pray you have the time and patience to continue, and Allah willing, perhaps even grace us with some vidcast content. There is a gap in the market for your unique 'personal' take on this stuff- not just a fanboy review, but where you were in your life when you saw a particular item, how it made you feel at the time, how you feel about it now, and the influence it- and the whole damn shootin' match- has had on your life.

    Anyone can review a film; your reviews (like this beauty on "Freakmaker") make us care...

    Keep on chooglin' brother...

  2. BTW re Jack Cardiff, last week I watched a doco with him on camera duties called 'Western Approaches'- issued by the Imperial War Museum. 'Trying to run the gauntlet of U-boat wolf packs on it's way home from America to Britain, a merchant ship is torpedoed and sunk. The survivors take to a lifeboat and await rescue- unaware that the U-boat which sank them is still lurking in the area, just waiting for the rescue boat to turn up...'

    Apologies if you already know it and I am teaching Granny to suck eggs.

    I also love 'Girl on a Motorcycle'- Marianne Faithful's best film, although she was good in a small part in the amazing film 'Intimacy'.

    Plus, I never thought of it as such, but I have been researching 'nunsploitation' a bit recently, and a number of the purists regard 'Black Narcissus' as part of this genre! Well Dog my cats!

  3. Yet another one that I will have to check out! :-)

  4. I had never seen this one. How missed it when I'm a fan of both these men I'll never know!?! It sounds awesome. I love the pictures from it.

  5. mandingo -- I don't know 'Western Approaches'. It sounds very interesting.

    Yes, 'Girl' is Faithful's best film. I know and Iike 'Intimacy'.

    'Black Narcissus' as Nunsploitation? Well, I guess there are no hard and fast rules.

    I did suffer from Kidsploitation by a Nun when I was a moppet. I still cringe at the thought of her feather duster across the back of my bare legs. The smarting lingers.

    thebonebreaker and Keith - definitely one to check out. I'd call it a Quiet Classic.

  6. I've had this DVD in my rather intimidating "to watch" pile and it is certainly getting bumped up. Those lobby cards are fantastic.

    Since you mentioned Freaked I would like to voice that I hate ready-made cult items like that and Repo! The Genetic Opera.

    On the subject of nuns, I had a run-in with a rather large beast in 7th grade. She wore a mullet and conspicuous mustache and was built like a linebacker. Her breath could peel paint. She picked me up by my shirt like a fucking thug in a movie and pinned me against a wall for a minor infraction. Several years later she had left the convent for the arms of another nun (she, a hideous beast as well but nowhere near as butch). Her name was Sr. Ann. We called her Sr. Man. Dykey bitch.

  7. I, too, hate ready-made cult items. I didn't like 'Freaked' at all.

    A nun with a mullet? That's hideous.

    I also experienced a lot of nun violence, in addition to priest violence.

    Those repressed sexual urges have to express themselves somehow.

    Sister Man? That is brilliant.

    We had a nun named Sister Alison Mary. Nickname: Sam.