GORE IN THE STORE
SHE FREAK **
Directed by Byron Mabe.
Starring Claire Brennen, Lee Raymond, Claude Earl Jones, Ben Moore, Bill McKinney, Felix Silla.
Horror, USA, 83 mins, cert 12.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via 101 Films on 14th March 2022.
It is once again time for 101 Films to exhume another cult movie title from the AGFA vaults with SHE FREAK, a title that promises a lot but delivers very little if you go into it expecting the remake of Tod Browning’s FREAKS that the movie really wants to be. However, SHE FREAK shouldn’t be written off completely as it does hold a bit of retro charm for the exploitation movie connoisseur to soak up, and the package itself is something of a treat if vintage carnival footage from a bygone era spins your wheels.
Jade Cochran (Claire Brennan) is a waitress in a grotty diner owned by the lecherous Greasy (BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR’s Claude Earl Jones), who fancies getting his wicked way while his wife is out of town. However, he is stopped in his tracks by a customer who happens to be a barker at a travelling carnival and sells Jade on the idea of giving up her mundane job and living the life of a carny, with all the fun and frolics that come with that lifestyle. Naturally, Jade is dazzled by his talk and runs off to join the carnival but life isn’t quite so glorious when she discovers that the carnival is home to a collection of weird and wonderful characters who are considered ‘freaks’ by ‘normal’ society, although she has her busy social life to keep her away from those people as she becomes drawn to the excitement of being with bad boy Ferris wheel operator Blackie Fleming (Lee Raymond) and also catches the eye of the more respectable Steve St. John (Bill McKinney), the owner of the carnival and who also happens to take care of the freak exhibits. Jade’s behaviour starts a bizarre love triangle that comes back to get her in ways that will make her wish she’d stayed put in that greasy spoon diner.
And if you have seen FREAKS then the ending will hardly come as a surprise as it is pretty much the same but the major difference between the two movies is that SHE FREAK forgoes the horror and impending dread of Tod Browning’s movie in favour of a stilted soap opera love triangle as Jade wanders around the carnival, flirting dirtily with Blackie and giggling romantically with Steve, as the movie is padded out with extended carnival footage. It is only in the final 10 minutes, when tragedy strikes and we see what Jade is really like, that we are given the notion that she doesn’t like freaks and it is only in the final two minutes that we actually get to see the different human oddities who make up the freakshow exhibit.
Well, that isn’t strictly true as there is a dropped line early on when Jade says she doesn’t like that particular side of the carnival and that is it until the final shots of the movie, but up until then you left with a fairly dull drama full of – at best – serviceable acting and pretty faces going on funfair rides and generally having a nice time with hardly any sighting of any freaks, except for Shorty (Felix Silla) who lurks silently in the background every now and then. Thanks to writer/producer David F. Friedman’s background in softcore porn and exploitation we get that naughty titillation vibe from the scantily-dressed strippers that parade around but there is nothing here that you wouldn’t see in a racier CARRY ON… movie, and with no horror going on until the final two minutes – when we get to see what could be what happens when you let the arts and crafts department loose to do the make-up – SHE FREAK ends up being something of a disappointment if you are searching for something a little bit weirder than the norm.
However, accompanying the movie is an archival commentary with producer David F. Friedman and Something Weird founder Mike Vraney, which certainly helps during those long scenes of padding where not a lot happens, a feature-length compilation of trailers from the Something Weird vaults that provides a lot of retro exploitation fun, vintage shorts from the carnival midway and a booklet with an essay by Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci. The movie itself does look pretty good thanks to a 4K transfer that really brings out the bright carnival colours in the daytime scenes and keeps the blacks nice and dark for the night-time scenes, and the extra features all help to enhance the 1960s carnival experience but ultimately, apart from seeing Claude Earl Jones in his first movie role and the homage to FREAKS at the end, there isn’t really a lot going on within the movie itself to appeal to anyone not already invested in collecting these AGFA titles.