Saturday Editor’s Pick: Freaked (1993)

by on January 8, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Sat Jan 14 at 7:30* at 92YTribeca [Program & Tix]
*Post-screening Q&A with writer/director/star Alex Winter and The Onion AV Club’s Alison Willmore!

 
Programmer Andrew Miller’s jaunty “Basic Cable Classics” series strikes again, this time co-presenting with The Onion AV Club’s New Cult Canon. Writer, director, star Alex Winter (the other dude in Bill & Ted) will stop by for a post-screening chat and then introduce the second half of the evening’s double bill, his acting debut Death Wish 3. Suffice it to say that the odds off Death Wish 3 getting another theatrical revival are slim.

 
Scott Tobias on the AV Club’s picks:

We recommend making a night of it. Both films are tremendously entertaining and Winter is a funny and generous guest.

 

Freaked is a great discovery, a wonderfully idiosyncratic comedy that was dumped by Fox but embraced by a fervent cult following on home video. Winter stars as Ricky Coogan, a likable spokesperson hired by a company after a toxic chemical tarnishes its corporate image. When Ricky flies down to South American to see the chemical’s effects for himself, he witnesses the bizarre goings-on at a mutant freak farm run by the deranged Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid). Featuring an eclectic cast, Freaked pays homage to everything from Tod Browning’s Freaks to the stop-motion magic of Ray Harryhausen, all while staking out a manically funny tone of its own.
 
Death Wish 3 is the sublimely insane second sequel to the 1974 vigilante hit and may be the ultimate you-kids-get-off-my-lawn movie, pitting Charles Bronson’s almost superhuman avenger against a band of troublemaking whippersnappers. The New York of Death Wish 3 is like a real-world The Warriors crossed with a paranoid right-wing small-towner’s vision of big-city menace: a gang-infected war zone, lorded over by the cast of Breakin’. It’s crazy, it’s violent, it’s altogether stupefying. And it will make you froth at the mouth like the dog you are.

 

 

Time Out (London):

The wit is all in the casting: Mr T as the bearded lady (you got a problem with that?), Bobcat Goldthwait as ‘Sockhead’, Brooke Shields as a TV presenter, and Keanu Reeves behind layers of hair as ‘Ortiz the Dog Boy’. Brian (Society) Yuzna’s surreal make-up effects are also worth a look – check out those gun-toting Rasta eyeballs!

 
Excited AV Club AlwaysBeenTim:

Freaked is both a New Cult Classic and a Film That Time Forgot. It seemed like it really got some love after it hit video and cable but then it just kinda disappeared. It is like a forgotten 90′s relic that I might show my illegitimate children, someday.

 

 
Steven Puchalski for Shock Cinema:

A mix of monsters, madmen, corporate scumbags, and carnival freaks forms the basis of this high-powered, gloriously-warped comedy from co-directors Alex Winter and Tom Stern. Winter stars as Ricky Coogin, a spoiled Hollywood hack who journeys to the tiny country of Santa Flan as a spokesman for highly-toxic Zygrot-24 fertilizer. Accompanied by his best friend (BLOSSOM’s Michael Stoyanov) and a pretty protester (Megan Ward), they make a pit stop at an isolated carny titled Freek Land. But this more-than-slightly-mad proprietor of this freak show, Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid), not only houses these human oddities — he creates them in his makeshift lab, with the aid of the deadly Zygrot. Taken prisoner, Coogin’s ever-bickering companions are transformed into siamese twins, while Coogin is transformed into a hunchbacked Beast Boy who squirts green puss from his pores and whose face makes people projectile vomit. Then we meet the rest of the menagerie, which includes a Giant Nose, a Cow Man, Mr. T as a Bearded Lady, Bob Goldthwait as the voice of a Sock Puppet Man, and the Dawgboy (a furry Keanu Reeves). Despite the grotesque Cougin winning over the locals patrons with a scene from RICHARD III, Skuggs plan is to change him into an “evil super-freek” and have him kill the others. If that wasn’t enough, the story also crams in Giant Rastafarian eyeball guards, a halfpint Coogin fan who looks like Alfred E. Newman’s illegit son, and Brooke Shield playing a vapid celebrity (oooh, that’s a stretch). If memory serves me right, it’s also the first movie to have a flashback from an inanimate object. This pic has everything any happily brain-damaged vidiot could ask for — from its rude and crude sense of humor, to the deranged make-up from FX masters Steve Johnson and Screaming Mad George. The heavily-latexed cast gives their all, with Quaid a stand-out as the deliriously dim freakmaker. Let’s not forget David Daniels’ crazed animated credits and Henry Rollins’ theme song, which sets the perfect, caustic mood for the flick to come. Low on subtlety, but high on laugh-out-loud insanity, this is an instant fave.

 

 

Mondo Justin” introduces an interview with Winter, for Mondo:

This is from the mind of a very particular and original sense of humor. At age 25, Winter and partners in crime; Tom Stern and Tim Burns, were given the once in a lifetime go ahead to create what would instantly become the craziest, and most original Hollywood studio film that anyone has ever seen to date, FREAKED (1993). Like previous cinematic innovators such as: Kenneth Anger, Russ Meyer, The Marx Brothers, or Jerry Lewis, Alex Winter’s work slashed many eyeballs with a straight razor, more quickly than the one done in Luis Bunuel’s UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929). The work was bold, ground-breaking, and is now considered classic.
 
FREAKED (1993) contained a counter-culture aesthetic. A ‘hell yeah’ rock-n-roll underground movie aura, that’s strongly at play and hasn’t been duplicated since. FREAKED (1993) is a cult classic. A truly one-of-a-kind film experience. The film as a comedy soaks into your tongue like too many doses of Orange Sunshine. All the while, maintaining a pitch perfect attack of British humor, low brow Stooges slapstick, and cartoon pacing that makes your mind melt. It’s a perfect movie, and one of the greatest comedies of the last 30 years. I can’t imagine anyone out there that may be reading this today that hasn’t seen the film at least once.
 
If you had to create a summation of theory, Winter’s work would be the offspring of a perverted love-in that invited MONTY PYTHON, Robert Williams, the Sam Raimi camera, Charlie Chaplin, Tod Browning subversiveness, Film Noir principle and THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957), or something like that. The work of Alex Winter is quite unlike anything else you’ll experience again in your lifetime.

 

 

And some excerpts from his subsequent chat with Winter:

MONDO: So where do you think your warped sense of humor comes from in stuff you’ve done like FREAKED (1993) or THE IDIOT BOX (1991)?

WINTER: What I think shaped my sense of humor is the fact that my family, not being English [but living in England for a really long time] had a very steady diet of that mad capped British oriented humor. Peter Cook, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan. All of these really great British comedy shows is what I grew up on. All this stuff that was already on television in re-runs or on the radio and we watched it and listened to it all the time Stuff that’s pretty obscure now even, like AROUND THE HORN and THE GOOSE SHOW. Then of course, MONTY PYTHON.

 

So growing up in the midwest I’d say I had a warped sense of humor compared to everyone else around me growing up. I have a different kind of sense of humor I think than some, and it’s totally been an issue for me my entire life, cause my humor is more English by nature. I’m not the kind of guy that’s gonna make a water cooler comedy like Judd Apatow. There’s nothing wrong with that type of comedy certainly, it’s just that I wouldn’t know what to do with something like that. For me, you’re making jokes about pizza, beer and your toy collection, and my eyes kinda fog over.
 
MONDO: So on the casting, did you guys know who you wanted to be in the film once you wrote it?

WINTER: No, No. The only person we knew we wanted from the start was to have Mr. T as the bearded lady, other than that, no idea.
 
MONDO: So how did you guys get Randy Quaid?

WINTER: We literally started going out to actors. We had a short list of actors that we thought would be really good. Randy was on the list, and he was one of the first to respond to us. He was someone we thought was perfect. Randy, while he’s the villain he’s really the protagonist. My character isn’t really the protagonist. And that’s sort of the joke. We knew we needed someone in that role that could really carry the movie, frankly.

 

 

Stephen Holden actually was a pretty great sport about it, for the New York Times:

A rambunctiously slobbering entrant in the “Toxic Avenger” school of gross-out movie comedy. “Freaked” has the candy-colored glow of a goofy psychedelic comic book and the irreverent sensibility of Mad Magazine.
 
The film is also a movie in which any and every relic of 80′s pop culture is liable to show up.Anything can happen at any moment. During the “Richard III” soliloquy, an English professor in the carnival audience turns to the camera and announces that there will be subtitles for the culturally illiterate. Late in the movie, the film pauses to deliver an amusingly bogus commercial for Macheesmo, a loathsome-looking paste in an aluminum beer can, billed as “real cheese for real men.”

 

 

So actually is Ty Burr for Entertainment Weekly:

A good midnight movie is surprisingly tough to make: The intentionally bizarre all too quickly slides into the obnoxiously smug. Luckily, Alex Winter — Bill of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and star and codirector of the scrappy gross-out comedy Freaked — understands Stoopid Movie Rule No. 1: No jokes are too idiotic if you throw enough of them at the screen. With gags ranging from a bearded lady played by Mr. T to the cinema’s first flashback by a common household hammer, the movie stuns you into a state of giddy delirium.
 
Look, if you want art, go to The Age of Innocence. Freaked is more interested in reveling in yucky makeup and spewing out one junky riff after another. The hit-to-miss ratio is pretty high, too: This is a movie that starts with the unexplained news bulletin ”The Great Flying Gimp has been defeated,” ends with a talk-show host played by Brooke Shields being revealed to be a carnivorous mutant, and features giant, mobile Rastafarian eyeballs with machine guns somewhere in the middle. That’s already more laughs than a month of Saturday Night Lives.

 

 

Alex Winter concludes in his Mondo interview:

MONDO: How gratifying is it for you that you made a film that’s so loved by people? Wouldn’t you say that FREAKED (1993) was really ahead of it’s time in a sense?

WINTER: Yes, it’s very gratifying to know that people like and care about the movie, certainly that means a lot. But as for it being ahead of it’s time. As a person that was on the team that made that movie, if I started thinking things like that I’d be down in a very dark place. The fact is, the movie didn’t really get released. I’m not gonna sit here on sour grapes and say, “THE MOVIE DIDN’T GET RELEASED CAUSE IT WAS AHEAD OF IT’S TIME. OR WE”RE FREAKIN’ GENIUSES AND NOBODY UNDERSTOOD.” I don’t think I could do down that road, and I’m not sure if I really buy that either.
 
The movie is very very idiosyncratic, and that’s it strength. I wouldn’t have changed a frame of it back then if I would’ve thought it would’ve made it more commercial. So I’m really happy that someone let us make it. I’m really happy that we were able to finish it before we had all the problems with the studio, so they couldn’t kill it. I’m really happy that it’s had the life it’s had since we made it. It’s an amazing fluke that at 25 years old, someone gave us the power to make that thing, and we were able to get it done, so that is pretty gratifying.

 

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