Directed By: Alex Winter, Tom Stern
Written By: Tim Burns, Tom Stern, Alex Winter
Produced By: Stephen Chiodo, Harry J. Ufland, Mary Jane Ufland
Cast: Alex Winter, Michael Stoyanov, William Sadler, Megan Ward, Mr. T, Brooke Shields, Randy Quaid, Alex Zuckerman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 80 minutes
Review Date: February 25, 2011
Freaked is the brainchild of Alex Winter, that guy from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and one of the vampires from The Lost Boys. As such, it’s kind of a spiritual sequel to The Idiot Box, Winter’s sketch comedy/variety show which ran on MTV from 1990-1991. After producing only six episodes, Winter and pals signed a movie deal with 20th Century Fox, and Freaked, like a six-armed mutant risen out of a chemical sludge, was born.
Right from the very beginning, the animated opening title sequence brings back a flood of 90’s MTV-programming nostalgia. It’s no secret that MTV’s stamp is all over this movie, from its “sensory overload” aesthetic of excessive dutch angles, zoom-ins, and over-saturated prime colors, to its crude and gross mix of camp, social satire, and pop culture references. It’s what would happen if MTV took a 90’s-era Nickelodeon cartoon and made a live-action film adaptation. Furthermore, to say this is a “black comedy” is like calling Rocko’s Modern Life a “critique on corporate culture.” It works, but it’s not your first instinct.
Winter plays former child star Ricky Coogin, who relates the events of the film in an interview session with a Ricki Lake-type daytime talk-show host played by Brooke Shields. Relating his account of how he came to be hideously disfigured, Ricky’s tale begins when he signs a deal with EES (the “Everything Except Shoes” Corporation) to promote their controversial fertilizer product Zygrot-24, rumored to be extremely toxic. Accompanied by his perverted but loyal friend Ernie (Michael Stoyanov), and hounded by his relentless number-one fan Stuey (Alex Zuckerman), Ricky travels to South America to act as the spokesperson for EES and quiet the environmentalist concerns. When he gets there, however, he’s quickly smitten with Julie (Megan Ward), the organizer of the protesters, and the gang invariably wind up on an adventure together that has nothing to do with the corporate gig. The next thing we know, they decide to check out Randy Quaid’s roadside freak show, but end up becoming his captives in his latest “mad scientist” venture, assisted of course, by none other than Zygrot-24. What follows, amidst ham-fisted dialogue and greatly exaggerated acting, is a sometimes disturbing, sometimes unwatchable, always ridiculous experience.
Freaked has the makings of a cheapened Terry Gilliam film, the body horror of David Cronenberg (in particular, the dreamlike weirdness of Naked Lunch), and the tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top violence of Sam Raimi (think Evil Dead II or Army of Darkness). I want to say it has the mise en scène of Tim Burton, but really only the “afterlife waiting area” scene of Beetlejuice comes to mind; its zany collection of mutated and mutilated characters would be right at home in this film. Freaked has the non-sequitur comedic style of a Monty Python episode or a Mel Brooks movie, and the same kind of shenanigans you’d expect to find in Police Academy or Naked Gun. At one point, Stuey gets sucked out of an airplane, followed by an old man in a wheelchair, before a stewardess plainly walks up and closes the aircraft hatch. (The kid eventually lands on the ground below, gets up, says, “Hey, I’m okay!” before some debris falls on his head.)
The reality depicted in Freaked is squished and distorted, viewed as if through a kaleidoscope. It’s a wacky, frightening blend of twisted surrealism and jacked-up psychedelia, coming together to create a constant wonky, off-kilter feel. The result is like a bad acid trip. When you reflect back on what you’ve seen, it’s like stringing together the random, bizarre segments of a half-remembered dream from the night before. Nothing makes sense; what seemed to work in dreamland is now utterly absurd in hindsight.
As entertainment, Freaked skates a fine line between the inspiringly bizarre and the just flat-out stupid. Only someone with very immature sensibilities and the attention span of a second-grader will truly appreciate the monster that Alex Winter and his buddies have created. His raunchy brand of humor seems mostly directed at ten-year-olds, but sometimes will veer into R-rated territory. If you have the patience for, and can stomach the film’s unique brand of harebrained lunacy and occasional idiocy, there may be something worthwhile for you here. Otherwise, I suggest you pass on this like you would a high school cafeteria’s mystery quiche.
Josh Medcalf is a freelance writer living in Chicago.