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_She Freak_ is certainly one of the more accessible of Friedman's post-HG
Lewis movies. Obviously intended to target drive-ins, it lacks the more
objectionable (and usually dull) `adult' material of his other pictures, and
spends more time on the plot. Other strengths include actors that know their
lines and location footage (at a carnival) that offers a bit more visual
diversity than is usual in the extreme low-budget 60's
That said, however, the film is deeply flawed and far from a classic. It is frequently billed as a `remake' of Tod Browning's _Freaks_, which is true to an extent, but not in the way one would hope. Clearly the writer took the concept of a selfish carnival girl who is punished by the freaks for her ill-treatment of one of their number and ran with it. Unfortunately, it did not inspire him to particular heights.
The most notable difference between this film and its inspiration is the aspects of carny life upon which they focus. _Freaks_ focused on the title characters showing their lives and loves, how sideshow freaks were people with feelings who banded together against a world that despised them. _She Freak_, by contrast, seems mostly concerned with the people behind the scenes: the concessioners and `ride boys' and the Grips (or whatever their called in carny talk) that set up and tear down the big show. Something like 10 minutes of footage is sweaty guys working with tent poles, so if that's your thing As far as sideshow acts are concerned: there's a coochy-dancer (who goes `as far as the law allows,' evidently in a bible-belt state), a sword-swallower, a snake charmer and a fortune-teller. Even the one real `freak' of the film, the unfortunate `Shorty' the midget, gets very little screen time and never performs whatever act he is supposed to have.
The other glaring flaw is the character development. The main character, Jade, starts the movie as a bitch, then is re-introduced as a sympathetic character with high hopes, then spends the rest of the movie bouncing back and forth. It got so bad that I started to regard the movie as a Jekyll-and-Hyde tale, with the `bad' Jade progressively screwing up the aspirations of the `good' Jade. But, unlike Stevenson's story, there is no explanation for Jade's dual personality, and no way to predict which side of her would emerge. A more interesting take, had the writer and director been up to the challenge, would have been to portray Jade as starting out nice, but gradually becoming `jaded' (sorry, couldn't help that pun) over the course of events and hard knocks in the carnival, until she went too far and had to be destroyed. Frankly, the `crime' for which she is punished (firing Shorty) does not fit the punishment she earns, and there are other characters in the film that have far more justifiable grievances than the freaks do.
One interesting hallmark of the low-budget Friedman approach deserves note. The extended silent sequences, in which the audience is treated to musical montages of images that are supposed to suggest action. Aside from the aforementioned set-up, tear-down sequences, the entire courtship of Jade and her prospective husband is handled in this way. Up until his last two or three scenes, pretty much the only thing this actor says is `Hello.' On the whole, this is actually a good thing.
Overall, it's worth it for exploitation completists, and is a watchable film, but not generally recommended.
The fact that this movie is a rip-off of Tod Browning's "Freaks" should not
be construed as a reason to see it. The photography and acting are bottom
drawer, the direction is listless and unimaginative, and writing is rarely
sly (or at least it's hard to get any good dialogue out of these actors'
mouths). There isn't even all that much exploitation footage
What is kind of interesting is the picture of carnival life in the 60s (a period of decline for that art form) it provides. Roustabouts, geeks, carneys, all are presented with some sort of versimilitude.
With a stronger lead actress and a more competent cast/director, this film could at least have been a memorable shock-fest. Instead, it's ultimately forgettable.
Rotgut updating of Tod Browning's carny horror classic is actually not
nearly as awful as it could have been...still, just about any quotidian
viewer will refuse to endure it til the closing credits. Gorgeous,
blonde Claire Brennan(sadly lost to cancer early in her life)portrays a
complete and total bitch with a distinct "Bad Seed" approach to getting
whatever she wants. When she brings her unscrupulous shenanigans to the
mechanical wheel of a roadside carnival, she fitfully receives her
come-uppance at the hands of the sideshow attractions. Her beauty is
given way to monstrosity, as she is mysteriously transformed into a
half-woman/half-beast with a fried egg eyeball, salaciously fondling a
large snake(nice touch!).
Examine the names associated to this one, then reference their other works...I'm sure you'll find that "She Freak" is a cut above most of those other entries. It's overall a fun bit of grindhouse nonsense, but could have benefited greatly from the more gratuitous sex and violence one might expect from a Mabe/Friedman epic.
A truly diabolical 60's remake of the legendary Tod Browning movie
Freaks. Unlike the original film, this ultra low budget affair does not
feature real 'freaks'. Also, unlike the original version, this film
does not feature anything that can be vaguely described as interesting.
An alarming percentage of the running time seems to be spent watching
people putting up and taking down tents and other fairground
attractions. We have seemingly endless scenes showing fairground rides
and people frequenting side-stalls. We have a hugely unerotic
striptease and many other sequences so tedious my mind has blocked them
out as a suppressed memory. The acting talent and production values are
nil. This movie must've been shot in a couple of days tops. The
she-freak of the title only rears her ugly head in the last few seconds
of this dreck and, needless to say, it isn't worth the wait.
This is exploitation cinema at its worst. It exploits the viewer in such a way that it promises something and delivers less than nothing. This is as close to a non-movie as you can get. It's so bad I would wish it on my worst enemies.
Outstanding exploitation flick with a palpable sense of sleaziness...Feels like an old E.C. comic book story, one that would have been drawn by Graham Ingals...who cares if it's a "Freaks" rip-off: it has its own unique charm, with loads of authentic carney atmosphere (producer/writer David Friedman was a carny himself up until a couple years ago) and great performances from a cast of nobodies. Shorty is incredible, as is the fat, sweaty hash joint owner at the beginning. And David Friedman as a freak show barker is not to be missed. The genuinely unsettling make-up for the She-Freak is by Ed Wood's make-up man. Good stuff.
A waitress who has dreams of a better life decides she'd have more fun
working for a traveling carnival. Weird choice for a better life, but
whatever. Once there, it isn't long before she's courting the rich
owner of the carnival freak show. After marrying him, she carries on an
affair with the ferris wheel operator behind his back. Everything ends
badly for all involved.
This is a pretty poor attempt at a remake of Freaks. Instead of actual character development, the film feels content to give us countless scenes via musical montage. The entire courtship between the lead and the freak show guy is a wordless series of scenes set to music. We also have several lengthy scenes of the carnival being set up and then even more of it being taken down. This is sort of neat to see, but it takes up way too much time. The pointless scenes don't stop there, as we also get a cheesy fight midway through. One guy gets a screwdriver through the hand, which would seem pretty serious, but there are no repercussions.
Leading lady, Claire Brennen (who unfortunately passed away ten years after this film), was actually quite good in the movie. The ending is decent too as the freaks have their revenge and we see what's become of her. I was really surprised to read that Claire had a romantic relationship with the actor who played the sideshow midget that her character is so disgusted by in the film. Good for them.
The film itself is absolutely nothing to write home about. For a better freak-oriented movie, check out Jack Cardiff's The Freakmaker.
Bored diner waitress Jade (Claire Brennen) joins the carnival in search
of excitement, where she quickly worms her way into the affections of
wealthy freak show manager Steve St. John (Bill McKinney), the
carnival's most eligible bachelor. After a whirlwind romance, and a
short engagement, the pair get married, but it's not long before Jade
is out seeking thrills with loutish ferris wheel foreman Blackie (Lee
Raymond), who happily gives her a ride for free. When Steve learns from
pal Shorty that his wife is banging Blackie, he confronts the uncouth
carnie, only to get a knife in the belly for his troubles. As a result,
delighted Jade inherits her late husband's lucrative business, but her
hatred and mistreatment of the sideshow's exhibits means it not long
before the ruthless ex-waitress gets served her just desserts.
She Freak, a virtual remake of Tod Browning's 30s horror classic Freaks, opens with a solid five and a half minutes of carnival footageshot after tedious shot of carnies plying their trade to happy puntersbefore eventually getting down to telling a story. Throughout the film, director Byron Mabe continues to make maximum usage of his carnival setting, regularly interrupting the action with further prolonged shots of people risking their lives on rather precarious looking fairground rides while eating unwholesome food purchased from dodgy concession stands. Strip this excess of colourful padding from this cheapo drive-in garbage and there really isn't a whole lot leftcertainly nothing to get your average exploitation/horror fan excited about.
Considering the film was produced by trashmeister David F. Friedman, whose filmography boasts such legendary titles as Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, and Love Camp 7, it should come as no surprise to find that, in terms of style and atmosphere, She Freak is no match for the masterpiece that inspired it; however, it is rather shocking to discover that the film is remarkably light on both sleaze and gore. The bloodletting is limited to an unconvincing screwdriver through the hand during a fight between carnies and there is no sex or nudity to speak of (unless you count off-screen nookie and a few brief glimpses of skin from sexy sideshow stripper Moon, played by Lynn Courtney). Worse still, the film's genuine 'freaks' are limited to one dwarf (Felix Silla, Twiki from Buck Rogers), a sword swallower, and a June Whitfield lookalike who plays with snakesno match for the collection of genuinely disturbing human oddities that helped make Tod Browning's Freaks such a memorable movie.
I guess I can't complain too much, because for all intents and
purposes, I got this movie for free. It came with a 'freaks' boxed set
through Something Weird video, along with, among other movies, the
classic 80's cheesefest BASKET CASE. At the time, purchasing BASKET
CASE in this boxed set actually cost less than it did alone, so hey, a
good deal is a good deal. And since I bought it, I gave SHE FREAK a day
in court and watched it. Unfortunately, it isn't nearly as interesting
as BASKET CASE. It's really only slightly more interesting than
watching paint dry.
SHE FREAK is, near as I can tell, the 1960's remake of the classic freak film FREAKS, directed by Tod Browning. Unlike Browning's movie, however, SHE FREAK contains almost no freaks at all. The biggest problem with this movie is that a grand majority of it contains stock footage of carnivals being set up and taken down, shots of random people on rides, and other such mundane images of fair grounds and carnies.
What little story there is revolves around Jade Cochran (the late Claire Brennan), an average-to-homely woman who begins the movie as a coffee shop waitress with high aspirations. After getting fired from her job for not being appreciative enough (if you know what I mean), she finds work at the local carnival, becoming good friends with one of the strippers. She eventually meets and seduces Steve St. John (Bill McKinney) and marries him, although it's made very plain that she's a bit on the easy side, as prior to the marriage she has a little bedroom bam-bam with Blackie Fleming (Lee Raymond), a man egotistical enough to decorate the walls of trailer with his own name in spray paint.
Steve St. John, Jade's new husband, is in charge of the freak show, something that deeply disturbs Jade. See, Jade is a bit on the shallow side, thinking more about the material advantages of marrying a man with money and less about the human side of his work trying to make a life for people who might not otherwise have one. Since Steve isn't the most attentive of husbands, Jade's little fling with Blackie continues despite the marriage. Then, one night, the only freak in the movie--a little person named, appropriately, "Shorty"--sees Jade getting it on with Blackie, and while he says nothing, he makes his dislike of Jade as clear as this script is capable of making it.
Things escalate (so to speak) from here, with Jade becoming increasingly open about her dislike of the unseen freaks. Unfortunately, as an actor, Claire Brennan was as talented as she was attractive, and when she expresses her disgust she does so with a smile that she holds back with painful difficulty. Soon, Steve St. John catches Blackie after one of Jade's indiscretions, the two of them have a fight, and Blackie stabs Steve to death in a very brief and tame fight scene. Jade then inherits the freak show, and runs it with a cold heart, in contrast to Steve, who considered the freaks close friends of his.
Anyway, eventually the freaks catch up to her and deform her in ways that are only possible in the movies, and she ends up becoming the bizarre and twisted creature shown in the SHE FREAK trailers and posters, and the movie ends. That's it. And believe me, this review is far more interesting than the actual movie itself, which should tell you something.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This daring flick tells the sordid tale of Jade, a devious, unlikable tramp who's our main character, making this movie so much fun to watch. You see, Jade has a depressing job as a waitress in a greasy diner so greasy the cook is named "Greasy". She dreams of something better, so gets an even more depressing job as a waitress at a greasy carnival. But still she aims higher, so she seduces and marries the owner of the freak show!
While this is going on we're treated to lots and lots of footage of the carnival being set up and taken down and set up again (I actually enjoyed that stuff, being a fan of "Death Mask" and "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies).
The film-makers were so busy showing how much fun carnivals are that they forgot to have an interesting plot- the freak show owner that Jade seduces hardly has any lines or character, and we never even see the freaks until the very end. The story moves incredibly slow for an hour and twenty minutes, then the freak show owner dies, Jade reveals herself as the bitch she is, and the freaks take their revenge- all in the last five minutes. They saved all the interesting stuff for the end, and then just rushed through it.
The "surprise" ending is a surprise only to those who haven't seen Tod Browning's "Freaks", which is superior in every way to this chunk of crap. The freaks take their revenge on Jade by gluing a googly eye to her face and making her wear a Mr. Spock ear, and then spraying her with silly string. Actually, the resulting "She-Freak" is much more attractive than the way Jade started out, as the actress resembles a leathery skeleton in a blonde wig.
Did I mention that I hated this movie? I did. Some of it looks neat, and it was probably an influence on Alex Winter's brilliant "Freaked", but overall it's too slow, dull, cheap, poorly acted, and unimaginative to be of any interest. Dullsville, baby, strictly Dullsville.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It makes carnivals really, really, really dull. Really. The most
interesting thing for me, a boomer kid, was reminiscing about the
fashions and decor of the era, and noticing how freak-show signs never
seem to change.
We didn't need the extolling at the outset of the film to realize that the producer probably was getting a big chunk o' change from the West Coast Shows carnival to make this film. I mean, for pity's sake, as has already been mentioned here, the scenes of the carnival in which NOTHING HAPPENS are mind-bogglingly frequent and long. But it certainly did the carnival no favors to have five minutes here and seven minutes there and another five minutes here of these scenes, because they're things like the same shots of the same rides, or the same shots of the same signs, or people standing next to trucks and smoking, or people putting ride parts on trucks or taking them off, or even, heaven help me, Jade, the main character, clearing debris off picnic tables. If this had been my experience of the carnival when I was a kid, I'd have been in tears asking my parents to take me home NOW.
And for the grownup seeking some titillation in Moon's "topless" dancing, well, caveat emptor. There's a question mark on her sign for a reason.
If anyone wants to know what it was like working in the actual West Coast Shows, there is a site by the (late) Amazing Vanteen, who played Mr. Babcock and also one of the killers, which details his life with that show. He briefly discusses the making of this film as well.
The attempted rip-off of Browning's "Freaks" is shameless and futile. For all of Jade's trembling hatred for the freaks, we don't see many of them. We have the odd-talent people, who only marginally qualify for this sad label. The closest to the classic definition of a sideshow freak is Shortie (and the oddest thing to me about Shortie is that he didn't grab that bottle of booze while Blackie and Pretty-Boy were duking it out by the trailer under which Shortie was hiding). The finale, of course, is total theft, although the details of the transfiguration constitute a more plausible end to Jade than the Browning ending provides. Whatever revolted viewer satisfaction there might be in the revenge is, however, I think undone by Greasy's reveling in Jade's undoing. We have no reason to think he is not as despicable as she is, after all.
Anyway, save yourself a wasted afternoon. This is no cult classic, kids.
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