Exploitation films are like the enormous, fancy delicate fusions of meringue and cream supposedly made by a Frenchman that wink at you from the windows of bakeries in London’s Soho. The idea of them is brilliant, but once bought you feel sick and bemused by sugar daze and the memory that every one you have ever bought has been a massive disappointment suddenly floods back to you. Of course, every now and again you choose and a cream filled apple horn , and though not the most decorously whorish of the fancies on offer, it is actually the most satisfying (please do not hold this comparison up to close examination).
Every time I see an exploitation film, whether a gaudy horror, a flamboyant cheapo spy thriller or something about rampant Satan obsessed nuns for sale on eBay, I know sooner or later that I will snap it up, unless of course I am outbid by some idiot from Walsall who runs a shop selling fiberglass cybermen and dolls of Sting from Dune. At the current time I am mulling over a double bill of The World of Jayne Mansfield on a double bill with the Labyrinth of Sex, and Damaged Goods, the tragic tale of love and venereal disease that will be a lesson to all those foolish fifties teens who might fool around with a cowboy or whore, I mean , surely these will be the trashy cinema sensation I have been waiting for?
The most recent exploitation failure was She Freak. It promised so much and yet it just turned out to be a tediously boring, badly made stodge of thrill-less nothing.
Behind the Tents and tinsel of a monster midway something barbaric occurs on the alley of nightmares.
Now I don't know what a 'monster midway' is, but how could an 'alley of nightmares' bring anything but morbid fascination and terrifying shocks to the soul, a nightmare alley that would seep into my nightmares, burning psycho images into my precarious, carny obsessed mind?
Actually, turns out there isn't really an alley of nightmares, though there is a bit of a pathway between a couple of tents that could do with better lighting.
She Freak is often touted as a remake of Tod Browning’s famously banned Freaks, but it is only in the barest form. Freaks was the story of carny folk, many of them played by genuine freaks, from Siamese twins via midgets to pinheads and bearded ladies. A young (and supposedly beautiful) trapeze artist joins the gang, before long she has won the affections of the midget owner, despite her true desire for a lunkhead muscleman. She weds the midget, this leads to the famous scene where the freaks chant 'one of us' as a way of greeting her into their circle, but is soon on route to killing him. All ends disastrously, the freaks, on a foul, muddy and lightning festooned night chase her by whatever means they have and the last we see of her, she is a mashed up chicken lady in a circus pen, a lesson for us all.
Freaks is creepy, atmospheric and oddly moral, She Freak on the other hand is neverending footage of a funfair being assembled and taken down, mixed with occasional scenes of blandly acted, poorly written dialogue.
In the dark corridors of every woman’s soul lurks the She Freak.
We start with about ten minutes of shoddily shot fairground footage, they kind of thing an eight year old with a reasonably steady hand might manage, this may have been meant to convey the fun of the fair, though really it just shows a group of bored Midwesterners ambling around a field, poking their heads into tents and thinking 'this isn't nearly as much fun as it looked on the poster'.
Meanwhile, back at the diner, Jade Cochran (Claire Brennen, who you may recall from The Touchables aka Nude Heatwave) is distractedly serving the doe-eyed customer who hopes for a date. Boy, is she bored, she needs some action to come into her life. Hey, who’s this after a grilled cheese sandwich? Why it’s the man who puts up the posters for the circus. Heck, what a guy. After receiving his grilled cheese sandwich (that he compliments the chef on, jeez, how can you screw up a grilled cheese sandwich?), he beguiles the fascinated Jade with tales of the circus.
She reckons it must be real swell and chucks in her job, dreaming of shoveling dung or cleaning chicken entrails from the gimp cage. For some reason, this scene could have been a few minutes long, but instead is 15 minutes, an obvious piece of padding to make sure that She Freak was a full-length feature.
She secures a job as a waitress at the circus and soon makes friends with the stripper and makes eyes at the hunky big wheel operator, but oh the horror, she wonders into the freak tent and her stomach is turned. She hates the aberrations to God she sees, despite the fact that it is a woman holding a snake, a man swallowing a sword and some guy holding a playing card... oh the horror. Obviously the circus the filmmakers used had no real sideshow attractions, or they wanted to be paid if they were going to be filmed, this seems most likely as we seem to see nothing that goes on inside any tents (bar the supposed freaks previously mentioned), in fact, we don't even see a hoopla stall in action.
About 50 minutes in, with only a badly choreographed knife fight to pump up our adrenalin, the director, Byron Mabe (perhaps you saw The Lustful Turk) realises the viewer might be getting bored of shots of tents being put up and hammers hitting nails, and quickly does the plot of Freaks, ending with poor Jade being twisted into a misshapen ghoul.
The only relief in this film is the relentlessly jolly lounge soundtrack that eases us into the 83 minutes of nothing. There is no fairground action, no proper acting and not nearly enough dwarves. Do not be fooled as this idiot was by the colourful packaging, just buy the poster instead. If you do want to enjoy a tip top circus folk movie with a plot about Donald Pleasance trying to create photosynthesizing vegetabley humans, buy the excellent The Mutations (oh and that’s got proper freaks in it).