FREAK. 1999
Director: Tyler Tharpe

Directors: Justin Meeks
& Duane Graves

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Freak The wooden covered bridge of an early shot in Freak (1999), & a few other interesting rural shots, gave this low-budget film quite a good look at the start, setting up some false hopes of an effective film about to unfold.

We watch a little boy (Jarod Parker) walking home, only to be slapped upon arrival, & screamed at by a mother (Linda McCormick) who, rather than being relieved that he has come home without incident, now feels the need to chain him in the attic.

We are not allowed to see his face. Seemingly he's a seriously deformed child & similar Elephant Man keeps his head hidden in his hoody then in a sack. But there's sufficient innocence to his nature that we can feel the same sadness & outrage that we would for any abused kid.

Some of the creepiest shit is going on with the reclusive crazy mother Mavis Keller who gives birth alone & soonafter tosses the newborn in an outdoor fire barrel & starts a fire. But the hooded boy pulls the infant out of the fire & in a wonderfully simple graphic scene bashes in his mother's head with a rock.

All this occurs before opening credits roll. And I'm completelly into this film by this point, as it has thus far seemed like no-budget filmmaking done right. Alas, it seems really to be one of those films that were careful to make the first few minutes interesting in order to dredge up some production funds. Once funds were in hand, the only point thereafter was to stretch it out to feature length & get it to market.

Years pass. The baby girl who had been pulled out of the fire was adopted with no knowledge of the terrible way her life began. Why she's not burned anywhere though dug out of a flaming barrel is never explained.

The boy, seemingly catatonic except for needing to keep his face covered (& now played by director Tyler Tharpe), scarcely ever communicates. He's been in an asylum for ten years showing no signs of violence.

By now the viewer realizes the boy is not in any out way deformed though he believes himself to be hideous due to his crazy mother's having raised him to believe it.

Again, seems at least his hands should be scarred after digging in the fire, but oh well, a film as bad as this one's turning out to be has no reason to make sense. So he wraps his face in gauze then rarely does anything else but sit in his room at the nuthouse.

Freak The "normal" point of view character is a young woman, Amy Paliganoff as Staci (note clever spelling in credits because that's as clever as it's going to get). Her parents recently died. She has legal custody of her boyish kid sister (Andrea Johnson), who their parents adopted.

Staci has sold their parents' house & wants to move to the coast where she has a job in an art gallery waiting. So the sisters are on the road together heading for a new life.

These two performers can't act but they have charm because there's a reasonably decent script to work with so far as characterization is concerned. As disappointing as the film will be as a whole, the novice screenwriter did at least comprehend dialogue, which fact kind of tricks the viewer into expected a story eventually to develop.

The kid sister doesn't necessarily appreciate even more changes in their lives after losing their parents, but the sting of the move is soothed somewhat by her having secreted a pet ferret along for the journey. Ferrets rule.

Their itinerary takes them near the place where the baseball-loving tomboy Jodi (follow-through on clever spelling; take joy in what you can) was born. The brother she never knew she had somehow perceives her nearness & the time has arrived for the semi-catatonic young man to awaken to fuller madness, setting out for a family reunion.

It takes an awfully long time to find out whether or not Freak is dangerous. A redneck (Michael G. Young) pursues him into the woods for stealing a shirt, leaving his girlfriend (Becky Niccum) in the truck. After that, there's no more question about whether he's dangerous.

Alas, beyond this point, a film that has been almost captivating begins to go all to pieces & utterly disappointing. When Freak kidnaps Jodi & returns to the home of his childhood & Jodi's birth, nothing especially interesting ever happens.

For the rest of the film it's largely spooky & dark, but it's boring both in actual incident & in execution. It all feels like an hour & a quarter of preparation for some pay-off that never arrives.

The action such as it is remains off camera; the suspense is tepid; & Freak himself is not much of a screen presence just for having gauze on his face. The make-up for the character design trumped used for promotion on the video boxes & promotion having little or no relationship to the non-freak of the film.

The story simply peters out with no climax, nothing to reveal of any kind. If there had been soemthing to reveal, the fact that Freak wasn't a freak might've taken on meaning. The only meaning it seems to have is to take advantage of interest in the Todd Browning classic Freaks (1932) to which this film has no relationship at all.

Plus the need to have gauze on his face is obviously borrowed from Halloween (1978), but with no comprehension of how to make the idea of a needless mask actually seem mysterious or psychologically intriguing.

The fact that the ferret never had a purpose in the plot is just one more clue that nobody involved on this project knew how to tell a story. So despite the patience induced in a viewer due to rather decent dialogue & character development (compared to most no-budget horror), said characters are wasted due to lack of story or incident. And that non-ending renders Freak in the final analysis a bad, bad movie.

HeadcheeseWhen a film is as unsatisfying as Freak, it's nice to have something extra totally unrelated to the bad film. This disc includes the under-half-an-hour horror film Headcheese (2002), which is totally amateur, ridiculous, & a little bit pompous, though in some ways more interesting than the main feature.

The interest, however, is more historic than to do with the film itself. One of the producers was Kim Henkel whose real claim to fame was co-scripting Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); & the location shots in the film, though looking awfully nowhere-generic, are in fact the vincinity of where Tobe shot his no-budget gore classic.

A hitchhiker is on a road with lots of roadkill on the margins. We hear his moronic "poetic" thoughts of angst & shame as a continuous inner monolo. He really should just shut up.

He enters a prairie grocery for cigarettes, beer, sunglasses, while further moronic thoughts afflict the soundtrack. He catches a ride with a nose-picking' booger-eatin' redneck-in-leg-braces.

A fantastically inept rock song is playing on his vehicle's radio, "There's a Killer in Texas," which I have to assume was written by the inept filmmakers themselves, if not by someone's twelve year old baby brother.

So the schizoid Dork of Angst kills the redneck or perhaps just knocks him unconscious. Big deal. He continues down the road afoot, with more of the annoying monolog spewing from his head. He has a couple cheap & easy hallucinations. More big deal.

Fnding a trashed, gutted, rusty, bullet-ridden remnant of a car, he procedes rather pointlessly adding further damage with a chain, before hanging himself from a tree until dead -- no wait -- that was a hallucination god damn it now we have to listen to the inside of his lame-ass head some more.

Stuff & nonsense keeps happening, all of it moronic. He finds some animal skulls & a shack on the prairie, has more hallucinations, chains the bones to his body, runs around half-naked, takes an electric drill to his mouth for a gore climax which may or may not be hallucinated, & who cares. The film's a piece of crap but Chainsaw fans ought to check it out.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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