I finally caught THE MUTATIONS on Sky Sci Fi/Horror the other day. It’s been eluding me for half an eternity, though it has been on repeatedly, but always late at night and as I don’t videotape stuff anymore, but also don’t own a DVD recorder and am still a bit more than a week away from getting Sky Plus installed I depended on being up at the time when the film was shown in order to watch it. Kind of gave it a 1970s viewing experience when you just had to view stuff when it was shown, not when you wanted it. A quick look at the program guides also shows that it was just as well I watched it this week as it doesn’t appear to be on again anytime in the foreseeable future and I may just have caught the last screening for the time being.
Also known as THE FREAKMAKER, this is a pretty notorious example of Brit Horror 70s style. It’s effectively a hodge podge of every good genre idea there ever was and contains mixtures of FRANKENSTEIN, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, FREAKS, THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BURKE AND HARE, THE BODY SNATCHERS as well as FUN HOUSE (admittedly a later movie) and a bunch more.
It’s the kind of production that you would not see made in this day and age: Donald Pleasance plays a scientist who believes it is not only possible to clone entire species, but that you could produce a plant/human creature that would make the world a better place. (Yep, every home needs a guy who’s also a Venus Flytrap.) Pleasance’s character lovingly caresses rabbits before throwing them into the mouths of his giant meat eating plants. Future Dr Who Tom Baker - unrecognisable under tons of make up as the world’s ugliest man - assists Pleasance by providing him with new victims to experiment on. Unfortunately he has all of London at his disposal, yet the only victims he seems to catch are students from Pleasance’s college classes. Julie Ege - beautiful, but at times hard to understand with her Scandinavian accent (at least she wasn’t dubbed as usual) - is one of his students and enjoys lengthy baths. Bodybuilder and Peplum star as well as Kommissar X hero Brad Harris plays an American scientist visiting the Professor’s alma mater.
The reason for this film’s notoriety are neither the appalling plant/human monster effects nor the nudey operation scenes nor the occasional moments of gore, but the fact that one of the sub plots involves the members of a travelling “freak” show that involves dwarves as well as a number of real side show entertainers such as the Alligator Girl, Pretzel Boy, The Human Pincushion, Frog Boy and Popeye, a guy who can, well, pop out his eyes at will. The biggest gasps, however, will come when the Skinny Lady, a highly anorexic girl, puts her body on display. The word “exploitation” was created for those kinds of moments, however, the freak community is actually often shown in a very loving and caring light and, politically incorrect or not, those guys give the production a lot of memorable moments and some proper heart and soul.
Also watch out for lengthy scenes of macro photography of plant life that’ll make you want to become a mad scientist.
No idea whether this film really killed director Jack Cardiff’s career, but this would prove to be his last film in that capacity, though he is still very successfully working as a cinematographer up to this day. Not bad for a Nonagenarian.
Anyway, if you haven’t watched the film yet, go and check it out. It is oodles of fun and Julie Ege gets a lot of screentime to make it worth the while for every Hammer horror aficionado. Don’t listen to the naysayers: This is one of the best British Horror movies of the 1970s!
HAMMER COLLECTORS CRYPT; SUMMER 1981; NO. 27 -
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