I thought I should post a film recommendation this weekend. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be keen to watch anything other than the grotesque, tone-deaf display of state subsidised pageantry that’ll be taking place here in the UK tomorrow.
Recently, I’ve been following connections to find obscure films to recommend here. Last month I recommended FREAKS. The film I have for you today deals with (just about) similar themes, but in a far more exploitative way. It’s a horrible little flick, and I’m conflicted. It’s a mess and it makes less sense the more you think about it. I’ve added it to my list of not-recommended movies, and yet it’s so bizarre that I can’t help recommending you watch it. Horror great DONALD PLEASANCE stars alongside the magnificent TOM BAKER in JACK CARDIFF’S THE MUTATIONS (known in the US as THE FREAKMAKER).
Strap yourself in.
A scientist experiments with crossing humans and plants, for which he uses his students.Read more: The Mutations aka The Freakmaker
To be honest, once you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve pretty much had a glimpse of all the truly bizarre aspects of this film – for better or for worse. It’s a grotesque, dayglo, gory, nonsensical crapfest, and you’ll either love it or hate it. If you’re looking for a serious, thought-provoking horror movie about the human race and its place in the natural world, you should probably look elsewhere. If you want to waste and hour and a half and be entertained by a bad movie’s ridiculousness, then this will likely do the trick.
Quite why Plesance’s Dr Nolter has devoted his life’s work to trying to crossbreed humans with plants is never fully explained (heck, it’s never even partially explained), but that’s not really important. For the filmmakers, it’s simply a narrative device used to crowbar in as many rubber-suit monsters as they had the budget for, alongside a cast that includes a number of disadvantaged folks being exploited for our viewing displeasure.
The thing about TOD BROWNING’S FREAKS, as I mentioned previously, is that it portrays its cast sympathetically, showing that physical appearance is an irrelevance when considering the character of a person, that their outward beauty is no indication of what’s inside. This message gets all but completely ignored in THE MUTATIONS, in favour of a confused, voyeuristic film. There are scenes crowbarred into this movie that are reminiscent of the kind of exploitative sideshows shown at the beginning of FREAKS that had been rightly consigned to history. Here, the plight of the physically different members of the cast is further trivialised by having them perform alongside obvious fakes, not least a prosthetically enhanced ‘monkey girl’. In what feels like a clear attempt to appeal to the section of the horror genre’s audience just after cheap kicks, we’re treated to a performance from a range of folks with different disabilities, and it’s an uncomfortable watch. And there’s no disputing that the filmmakers were trying to latch onto the notoriety of FREAKS, because we’re later treated to almost a carbon copy of the scene where the trapeze artist and her strongman lover are confronted by the so-called freaks, right down to the ‘one of us’ chants.
And really, very little of this has ANYTHING to do with the mad scientist’s dastardly plan. For the most part, it’s just there for titillation, and it leaves a bad taste.
THE MUTATIONS is a film of two (equally bad) halves. Alongside the aspects I’ve just mentioned, we’re treated to a whole load of ridiculous B-movie shlock. Fans of really bad movies will have a field day here, and there are unintentional laughs aplenty. The rubber monsters look like they were designed by kids, there’s intermittent fog (cloudy in one shot, clear the next), characters make utterly incomprehensible decisions, and the scene in which Dr Nolter feeds a live rabbit to a carnivorous tree (honest) defies belief. But it’s not all as atrocious as I’m making it sound. The sound design is excellent, Pleasance and Baker are always worth watching, and some of the makeup effects are decent.
As I said at the outset, I’m not entirely sure whether I should be recommending this film or not. You’ll definitely have a reaction to it, one way or another, and isn’t that what watching movies is all about? And after being difficult to get hold of for many years, you’ll be pleased to hear that many of you will be able to watch THE MUTATIONS right now, as it’s recently been added to Amazon’s FREEVEE streaming channel.
Enjoy. Or not. As ridiculous as this film is, it makes more sense to me than the coronation.
Thanks for reading.
Over the years I’ve recommended many films, books, and podcasts. You can find a full list of them here.
A lot of folks find their way to this site from search engines and social media. If you’re new here, let me introduce myself – I’m DAVID MOODY, author of dystopian horror and science-fiction. I’m best known for the HATER and AUTUMN novels, but you can find all my books here.