Thursday, April 27, 2006

Get Your Freak On

Many years ago, when I held court as S.A.'s King of Laserdiscs at Bjorn’s, a flick trickled in that looked more twisted than a Rock Hudson/Doris Day double feature (turned out not to be, but it came damn close). Me being one in search of all manner of weirdness at the time, I promptly took it home and partook. And then I viewed it again. I then started showing it to friends. And then they showed two friends, and then they showed two friends and so on and so on and so on…

If, in San Antonio, there was ever a cult surrounding Alex Winter & Tom Stern’s Freaked, I take full credit for jump-starting the revolution.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Freaked, mainly because its imagery and gag-work have been so thoroughly burned onto my gray matter. I no longer have to watch it in order to view it. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s become a curiously parasitic part of my brain. If one dissected my DNA, they would no doubt find traces of Coogin & Skuggs grafted into the framework. Thank you Messrs. Winter, Stern & Burns - I am the Roy Batty to your collective Tyrells, and you owe me more life, fuckers.

A few years back, when Alex Winter came to S.A. for a screening of his film Fever, I knew I must get in touch and interview him. What started as a modest piece for the S.A. Current ballooned into a full-on, verbatim transcript of our conversation on Dark Horizons (which can be read by clicking here).

When I submitted the piece to the Current, the editor was torn because A) it was too long and 2) he thought it was so good he had no idea what to cut. I also wrote a review of Fever for the same issue, which I was again told was too long. They wanted a one-paragraph review; I had no idea how to construct such a thing. Irritation set in over the issue (from both sides) and I haven’t written for the Current since.

Sidetracked. Back to Freaked

If you haven’t seen Freaked, you really should. Since it clocks in at 80 minutes, it’s a small investment for potentially great rewards.

Pompous, sleazy actor Ricky Coogin (Winter) as a child starred on a popular TV show called “The Baker’s Dozen”. These days he doesn’t do much except try to pick up babes and bask in the fuzzy glow of his lame entourage. He’s hired by an Enron-esque company called EES to promote a chemical called Zygrot-24 and heads to South America.

Upon arrival, Coogin and his two cohorts, Ernie (Michael Stoyanov) and Julie (Megan Ward), take a detour to the middle of nowhere. They stumble across Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid), the proud proprietor of “Skuggs’ Fabulous Freek Land and Mutant Emporium”. Skuggs is also a mad scientist – he doesn’t just exhibit freaks, he creates them out of unwary travelers. And from there, you might guess what happens to the trio (but you can’t…not really). Coogin’s transformation is quite possibly the worst thing that could befall a has-been actor relying solely on his looks and past fame.

I have not yet mentioned that Freaked is a comedy, nor do I know if it was even obvious from the above.

Imagine the Zucker Brothers (of Airplane! & The Naked Gun fame) dosing on the strongest LSD created and chasing it with a couple days and nights worth of speed & cocaine. Soon after, one of them gets the bright idea to split the bag of shrooms that’s been in the freezer for the past month. Then they attempt to come down by ingesting a few bottles of the most potent Mexican tequila known to man. Somewhere in the middle of the second bottle, they envision, plot, write and storyboard the greatest film of their career. Had this scenario occurred, the Zuckers might have created Freaked.

But they did not. These other bent mammy riders (thank you, Odie) did, and what most disturbs is I doubt these men ingested chemicals at all. The warped degeneracy just came naturally to them.

Aside from the leads, the cast is rounded out by the most spectacular assortment of bizarro talent ever assembled under a single banner: Brooke Shields, Mr. T, Morgan Fairchild, Bobcat Goldthwait, [the uber-rockin] Bill Sadler, Calvert DeForest (Larry ‘Bud’ Melman of “Letterman” fame), Gibby Haynes, Deep Roy (the latest Oompa-Loompa), and an uncredited Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy.

If you’ve yet to wet your panties, I am profoundly bothered.

Quaid’s performance in particular is a thing of beauty. A delight to behold. Maybe even the defining comedic role of his career – and I’m a big Randy Quaid fan, so if I say that, it’s golden. Cousin Eddie can be great fun, but Elijah is easily Quaid’s quintessential dumbshit old redneck. So intense is my adoration for the film that I still long for the day where I see Winter play the entirety of Richard III in full Beast Boy regalia.

The reasons to admire Freaked are many, but I’ll close with one of my faves. It’s one of those films that somehow, in some way, managed to sneak in and get made with studio money, under a major studio banner (in this case Fox – you can read the details in the interview I linked to above). I go apeshit with glee over such serendipity. Sometimes they are car wrecks, but frequently they aren’t, and a concept like Freaked is all the more exciting for the sheer amount of moolah that was pumped into it.

Another one like this that I embrace [oddly also a Fox flick] is Ravenous. A period black comedy western about cannibalism in which the main character has no dialogue for the first 20 minutes? Greenlight that fucker!

These are the types of movies we’re seeing less and less of these days, because the studio’s balls shrink to smaller sizes with each passing year. There’s almost no greater viewing experience than big-budget studio-produced fare that sends the masses scrambling for the exit door. It’s the ultimate subversive entertainment and I get a hard-on when it happens.

It finally hit DVD last year in the form of a two-disc, exhaustive Anchor Bay edition, so what are you waiting for? Go get Freaked.