Students have been going missing from the local college, and the one person who knows what's happened to them is Dr. Noller, a rogue biologist. Not satisfied with the pace of natural selection in driving evolution, Noller wants to push things further by creating his own genetically engineered creations. Having already created some amazing specimins by mixing the DNA of plants and animals, the doctor has now set his sights higher, and want to work on modifying humans, as well. Written by
Jean-Marc Rocher <email@example.com>
Now what were they thinking...? This film is an outright one-off, granted, but a disastrous one. Little thought seems to have gone in, and when there is thought, it is reflected in a composer's score that transcends and barely fits the images.
Let's not contemplate the script at length; word or narrative craftsmen are resoundingly not at work here. Unexplained, irrelevant scenes clutter the film's third-hand B-movie premise. For example, whither the 'dancing instructor' ? Lynch's startling, vulnerable scene with the prostitute is bizarrely isolated, and unfortunately not given emotional context in the rest of this peculiarly ramshackle film. Ethical question-marks starkly rear into view with the use exploitation, rather of real-life freaks in the 'fictitious' side-show. A freak show is effectively shown for five minutes of the film's duration, and it is profoundly unsettling viewing: seedy, dank, sickening; one really wonders what went on behind-the-scenes here This film was made in 1973; there is no method to this display, beyond the flexing of cheap 'shock tactics'. As Brian says, "I didn't know these shows still existed". Clearly in the seedy world of 1970s low-rent British film, they did.
Very little in this film seems other than fake, besides, obviously, the actuality of the 'freaks'' 'abnormalities'. But there is little obvious entertainment value in the mad-scientist straddling, penthouse-peopled 'England' of "The Mutations". This is the worse considering what appears to be an effort at naturalism in the opening, which pins things down in staid, dully scientific terms. Need it be said that Pleasence is an embarrassment here? He is clearly on auto-pilot, giving little effort in what he surely knows is a farrago of a film. How utterly predictable that his dull professor is adorned with a Germanic accent? How stultifyingly insipid to model Nolter's delivery on that of a dry automaton? This spectacularly dull performance oxymoron intended sets the tone, and his oratory barely extends beyond the front rows of the London University lecture theatre. Ever more bizarrely, this lacklustre lecturer and stolid Sice-head is described as 'sexy', in pronouncedly giddy tones, by one of his students. This Lauren is something of an incessant, beaming blonde with fetching pigtails, invested, intentionally or otherwise, with vacuousness by Jill Haworth. What mostly lingers in the mind is her odd relish in watching the freak show, as if it were somehow a heart-warming spectacle.
She just about convinces as a student, at least in physical appearance, but she gives no impression that she reads Bio-Chemistry at degree level. Furthermore, Scott Antony's Tony is akin to any old token japer from the world of dispiriting 1970s British films (TM); has he wandered in from a depressingly small-fry juvenile sex comedy? The group of 'students' is rounded out with the Scandinavian curves of Julie Ege - bland and given tokenistic Leary invocations - and a girl who is quickly dispatched by the IDS-dull Pleasence. Oh, and did I forget our dear old Brian? Brad Harris 'essays', or rather phones in, an American 'scholar' who seems more like a redundant detective or sidelined action-hero. He has no real business being there, and yet somehow appears to have picked up Hedi as a girlfriend within a few minutes. This 'Sturdy Oak' archetype single-handedly 'saves the day' at the end, in place of the hapless students; admittedly, Haworth's simpering, would-be 'cool chick' seems unduly discarded, but would have been rendered useless and screaming by the chauvinistic script. One ought to reflect whether she was actually the only real student, as when Tony asks for entry to see the 'Lizard Woman' act, he specifically asks for "three and a half tickets" when four are there... Such pointless but amusing asides aside, Tom Baker is passable as a deformed ruffian and lunatic called Lynch. Hopefully no child fan of "Dr Who" ever stumbled upon this film, hearing of his presence: they'd be scarred for life! He overacts extravagantly in the "He's One of Us!" scene, which puts Tod Browning's similar scene in "Freaks" through the wringer; the freaks are played for all their 'weirdness' and treated as sinister; see also the inexplicable, brutish and farcical fog-drenched demise of Lynch, and indeed two of them stalking and capturing Olga Anthony's willowy unfortunate.
Other than for reasons of historical or academic study, I'd advise people not to see this appalling spectacle. However, there is a sole, sublime saving grace: the musical soundtrack. This majestic and incredibly innovative free-jazz music is on an altogether different plane to the squalid, murky seediness of the images. It is almost as if the soundtrack was a record that has been superimposed over the film and it should be noted that Basil Kirchin drew some of its themes from his ongoing "Worlds Within Worlds" series. Merely the time-lapse Open University-esquire opening photography tallies with the alternately sedate and barnstorming strains of Kirchin's music. There are high pitched string-instrument stings redolent of plant life, that periodically score 'tension', but generally, the score is of another world, and utterly un-telegraphed. It should be released on CD in full; while this film is forgotten, this music should live in its own context, in its interpolating sedate deathliness and cacophonous blaring.
The opening to the film indeed is mercifully sedate and horn-rimmed-spectacled, in comparison to the ghastliness to come. Eastmancolour skies and dappled, felt-like plants, seem of another age, backed by the awe-inducing music. But... well, things ebb, completely in all manner of exploitative, numb-skulled directions. To think that the lens-man of "The Red Shoes", Jack Cardiff, actually directs this... For me, the distasteful idiocy of this 'contemporary' 1973 film is ultimately exemplified by the smug, complacent face of Scott Antony; when the Monkey Woman enters, he tastelessly jokes "all sounds pretty hairy to me!" and in reply Jill Haworth's kittenish features crease into a fawning laughter.
The only balm is the music.
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