Twelve milkmen IS theoretically possible. Thirteen is silly. Looks like there’s one milkman too many, Coogan!

Year Released : 1993frea
Director : Alex Winter and Tom Stern
Cast : Alex Winter, Randy Quaid, Megan Ward, Alex Stoyanov, William Sadler and Keanu Reeves

One of my favourite films from the late 1980s is the Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter comedy “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and it’s early 1990s sequel “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”, but few know that Reeves and Winter were in another film together shortly after that sequel with the rather unique “Freaked”. One of the main reasons for this is that Reeves isn’t credited in the film, that despite having a large role as “Ortiz, the dog boy”.

You are not likely to see a more unique comedy than Freaked, not only due to it’s subject matter but how it’s also presented. Even now, 21 years after it’s release, it still holds up rather well and that is probably because there is very little CGI and the make up for each of the characters is excellent.

The film has gained a minor cult following since it’s extremely limited cinema released and even had numerous merchandise created for it, including a comic book series, action figures and many more, and is one of the few films with a running time of less than 80 minutes than you actually get a good level of enjoyment from.

Plot

Ricky Coogin (Winter) is a self-centred TV star that is picked by the Everything Except Shoes corporation to travel to South America to promote the fictional chemical “Zygrot 24”. He travels with his friend Ernie (Stoyanov) and environmentalist Julie (Ward) before the trio see a sign for a freak show and decide to check it out.

Despite initially being warmly welcomed by Elijah (Quaid), the three are eventually taken to a secret lab that uses Zygrot 24 to cause mutations. Ernie and Julie are merged into one person, whereas Ricky is partially transformed into a monster. Realising that they are now part of the freak show that they came to see, all of them struggle to adapt to the new life, especially as there is virtually no chance to escape due to Skuggs’ security team (a frogman and two giant eyeballs with machine guns).

Coogin refuses to accept that he is forsaken to his new life, contained with a group of people he calls freaks, such as the Cowboy (half man, half cow), Worm (a scientist turned into a human sized worm), Sockhead (a man with a sock for a head) and several others.

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So, freaked out?

Although it may sound like a horror film, Freaked is hilarious in it’s subtlety. The jokes are exceptionally well done and you can laugh without being fed a laugh-track to tell you when to laugh. I’ve always been into bizarre comedies and this certainly fits into that category.

With just a 75 minute run time you wouldn’t expect the film to actually be that good. Some of the worst films over the last few years have been of a similar length and whilst a short run time isn’t necessarily an automatic ticket to being a bad film, but you’ve got to do something pretty special to fall into the category of rubbish as you don’t have a long time to develop your characters, establish a story before the finale or even allow the audience to settle in as before they know it, the first hour is up and they’re ridiculously close to the end of the film.

I think the reason that the film works really well is that despite it’s limited run time and unnatural story, the film does feel very natural. You genuinely feel the struggle that Ricky goes through when he is transformed because you know that if you were turned into a monster or some kind of animal that you would really struggle to adapt. Winter’s portrayal of a character refusing to accept his fate is excellent.

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There are two types of reactions film characters have to transforming into something else. Either they accept it and just move on knowing that there is nothing that they can do to change their fate, or they can refuse to accept it and do whatever they can to either reverse it themselves, or escape their captors and get help that way. Such examples of the latter include Wikus in “District 9” or Seth Brundle in “The Fly” and whilst the film is not to the same level as those two in terms of scale, and the acting might be as “tour-de-force” as the latter, the reaction of Coogin on an emotional level, and the way that it’s acted, is superb and makes you care for the character of Ricky.

Some of those that fall into the “accepted their fate” category in this film are also interesting characters and the only that stands out for me is the character of Worm. Worm is a former scientist who stumbled across the freak show in search of a rare worm, Skuggs said he has some and subsequently transforms him into a human sized worm. The character admits that he initially found the transformation fascinating as it allowed him to truly understand the worm, but then he started getting more and more frustrated as he started realising that this wasn’t just a temporary transformation, and to quote, “I’d give anything to be able to wipe my own arse!”

 

That’s where this film really works as a comedy, it brings you emotionally and makes you feel one thing before completely changing how you feel about within a few seconds. For this review I watched the film for the first time in a while for this review, but I enjoyed it as much as the first time I saw it and that’s what you want in a comedy. I’m not generally a fan of the comedy genre as you often see the best jokes in the trailer, and in some examples everything in the trailer happens within the first twenty minutes.

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I’m not a big fan of the comedy genre as I find all the movies to similar to each other. If I watch a comedy I want it to be one where I can laugh everytime I watch, and that in particular is why I hate the romantic comedy genre. Virtually every romantic comedy is the same and I can predict what will happen early on……boy meets girl (or they already know each other), they fall in love, everything’s going well before one makes a stupid decision, that decision is discovered by the other about 20 minutes from the end and they break up before eventually ended up together. Where’s the fun in that?

Freaked is one of the most unique and enjoyable comedies I have ever seen, not only in it’s storyline but also in it’s look. Every detail has been looked at with regards to making this comedy look fantastic. The costume design is fantastic for the characters and the half-monster part of the Coogin character looks far better as it is than if it was presented by CGI. Obviously CGI in the early nineties was not as largely used as it is now and I would argue that’s the last time when films that required a lot of special effects where it didn’t look unrealistic. If “Freaked” was made now I very much doubt that I would find it as enjoyable

 

Despite that the film certainly has it’s flaws and one of the most important flaws is a lack of interesting secondary characters. Half of the freaks aren’t explored properly. “Nosey” for example, has no character development. His head a just a giant nose with a tiny mount and cartoonish guys, and his whole personality is just an angry person, there is nothing else too him. It’s only a minor complaint for sure, but it’s definitely a big one.

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Summary

Freaked is one of the most unique comedies that I have ever seen and certainly doesn’t hold back from it’s unusual look. It has some approvedgreat acting performances from Winter and Quaid, if a little exaggerated and the Coogin character changes more than any character I’ve ever seen in film.

It didn’t get a large release in the 1990s because it was described as “too weird” by critics, but that’s not a bad thing. I think some of the best films around are the ones that are out of the ordinary. If you’re sick of seeing the same type of films over and over again, and have 75 minutes to spare, this is a film for you.

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Comments
  1. […] Freaked – Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter’s comedy about forced mutation. […]

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