I’ve never seen Freaks, nor have I ever wanted to. It’s an exploitation film of carnival actors that Tod Browning, for some reason, thought might make a good follow-up to Dracula. Most of us are aware that it’s bad enough exploiting those with unfortunate deformities for money, and making a movie out of it doesn’t help. I have to confess that I stumbled onto Jack Cardiff’s The Mutations thinking it was a creature feature, without realizing it was a seventies version of Freaks. With a mad scientist thrown in for good measure. Honestly, though, the carnies are the characters with the highest moral standards of anyone in the movie, so at least it has that going for it. You’d have thought that by 1974, however, that people would’ve known better than to reprise a movie that wasn’t well accepted forty years before.
Professor Nolter, the mad scientist, is a university professor trying to force evolution’s hand by blending animals and plants. So far, so good. He uses his students as victims, which makes you wonder why their wealthy families don’t start any investigations when they go missing. The professor is assisted in his experiments by one of the co-owners of the carnival, which allows for a presentation of the carnies in a most awkward piece of cinematography. Two of his students are successfully made into plant hybrids, but one dies shortly afterward. The other escapes, so he decides to replace him with yet another student. Meanwhile, the carnies tire of their exploitation—rightfully so—and turn on the henchman/co-owner of the show.
The only real payoff here is the successful hybrid that turns into a student into a human Venus flytrap. If he hugs you in his rubber-suited arms, you’re a goner. And the film starts off with several minutes of time-lapse photography of plants growing, which is pretty cool, even amid the strangeness that’s to follow. When I saw that the movie starred Donald Pleasence, and having Halloween on my mind, I figured, “How bad can it be?” It was, after all, free on Amazon Prime. As with many exploitation movies, it’s poorly written and the props aren’t believable. Some of the giant plant-animal hybrids are worth looking at, even though they’re never explained. In the end the mad scientist’s creations kill him, as expected. I would normally consider such information as a spoiler, however, considering that the movie spoils itself, I won’t worry too much about it.