The US VHS cover of Freaked
Harry J. Ufland
Mary Jane Ufland
Paul Leary/Butthole Surfers
Blind Idiot God
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
Freaked is a 1993 American science fantasy black comedy film directed by Tom Stern and Alex Winter, and written by Stern, Winter and Tim Burns. All three were involved in the short-lived MTV sketch comedy show The Idiot Box, and Freaked retains the same brand of surrealistic and absurdist humor as seen in the show.
Originally conceived as a low-budget horror film featuring the band Butthole Surfers, Freaked went through a number of rewrites, eventually developing into a black comedy set within a sideshow, which was picked up by 20th Century Fox for a feature film. After several poor test screenings and a change in studio executives who then found the film too "weird", the movie was pulled from a wide distribution (except for Australia and Japan) and only played on a handful of screens in the United States.
Skye Daley (Brooke Shields) is interviewing beloved former child star Ricky Coogin (Alex Winter). Rather bluntly, Skye asks how Ricky so quickly went from one of America's sweethearts to a name that makes children scream in terror.
It all began when he accepted a job from the slimy mega-corporation E.E.S. to promote "Zygrot 24", a controversial and lethal toxic fertilizer, in South America. Although hesitant at first, the greedy, self-centered Coogin caves in after their sleazy chairman (William Sadler) offers him $5,000,000 and he hops on the first plane to South America with his buddy Ernie (Michael Stoyanov). During their flight, the duo have a run-in with Ricky's 12-year old number one fan Stuey Gluck (Alex Zuckerman).
Once Ricky and Ernie arrive in the country of Santa Flan, they cross paths with a group of protesters, specifically the hard-willed and attractive young environmentalist Julie (Megan Ward). The two con Julie into thinking they're also environmentalists and she agrees to join them on a trip to an anti-Zygrot 24 protest. However, she soon finds out their true identities and the three are stuck with each other for the rest of the drive. They decide to take a detour to see Freek Land, a freak show, and they wind up in the clutches of demented proprietor Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid) and his henchman, the long-tongued Toad (Jaime Cardriche). Skuggs introduces them to his "Tasty Freekz Machine", a contraption powered by Zygrot 24 that morphs regular people into "Hideous Mutant Freekz" to become part of his show. Julie and Ernie are merged into a pair of conjoined twins and Ricky is transformed into a hideous half-man, half-monster.
Ricky meets the other freaks: Ortiz the Dog Boy (Keanu Reeves), the self-proclaimed "Leader of the Freaks"; Worm (Derek McGrath), the half-man, half-worm; Nosey (Jeff Kahn), whose entire head is one big nose; Cowboy (John Hawkes), the half-man, half-cow; the Bearded Lady (Mr. T); Sockhead (Bobcat Goldthwait), who has a sock puppet for a head; The Eternal Flame (Lee Arenberg), who has constant flaming flatulence; Rosie the Pinhead; The Hideous Frogman (Tim Burns), a Frenchman in a scuba suit; and the skeleton of Paul Lynde. At first, Ricky wants nothing to do with any of the other freaks, but soon warms up to them after hearing their stories of how they came to be here. Meanwhile, he discovers that he's developed a telepathic bond with Stuey and summons him to get help. Stuey manages to sell Ricky's story to the Weekly World News, but ends up being captured by a group of shady businessmen that presumably work for Elijah.
Ricky eventually finds out that Elijah's Zygrot suppliers are none other than E.E.S., who arrive at Freek Land with a shipment of Zygrot and an imprisoned Stuey Gluck. As they discuss their plans to mutate the world's population into an efficient workforce, Stuey follows a telepathic tip from Rick and manages to escape, grabbing the tainted batch of Zygrot along the way. On the day of when Ricky is to kill the other freaks, Stuey appears with the batch of Zygrot but a random audience member dumps it onto the kid, which turns him into a grotesque seven-foot monster.
Elijah goes ahead and infects Ricky with his own Zygrot, turning him into an equally grotesque seven-foot monster. As the Ricky Monster and Stuey Monster battle to the death onstage, Elijah catches the E.E.S. executives double-crossing him and stealing his "Tasty Freaks Machine"; but Elijah stops them by soaking them with the Zygrot, mutating them all into a giant, fleshy shoe. Right before the Ricky Monster is about to destroy the Stuey Monster, however, a wave of compassion comes over him, and he drops his weapon and gives Stuey a hug. Enraged, Elijah unsuccessfully tries to fight the Ricky Monster, who bashes him in the head, paralyzing him.
Back to the interview, it's revealed that Ricky had turned back to normal (along with most of the other freaks). They are then joined by the still-mutated Ortiz and the Stuey Monster before it's revealed that Skye Daley is actually Elijah C. Skuggs. Skuggs lunges after Ricky with a machete, only to be gunned down by the now normal Julie. As she embraces Ricky, Skye rises again, this time to be gunned down by Ernie. Ricky and Julie kiss and everyone waves farewell to the audience until the film ends on a frozen shot of Skuggs once again rising up to attack Ricky.
- Alex Winter as Ricky Coogin
- Michael Stoyanov as Ernie
- Megan Ward as Julie
- Randy Quaid as Elijah C. Skuggs
- Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy (uncredited)
- Mr. T as The Bearded Lady
- Bobcat Goldthwait as Sockhead
- Derek McGrath as Worm
- Jeff Kahn as Nosey
- John Hawkes as Cowboy
- Jon M. Chu as Giant Stuey Monster
- Lee Arenberg as The Human Flame
- Patti Tippo as Rosie the Pinhead
- Tim Burns as Frogman
- Jaime Cardriche as Toad
- William Sadler as Dick Brian
- Alex Zuckerman as Stuey Gluck
- Brooke Shields as Skye Daley
Hideous Mutant Freekz was conceived around the time Winter and Stern had directed 1988's Bar-B-Que Movie, a short film starring and featuring the music of experimental rock band Butthole Surfers. Winter, Stern and Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes began work on the first draft of the script, envisioning it as an obscene, ultra-violent horror film once again featuring the Butthole Surfers, costing around $100,000. The idea was, as Alex Winter put it, "Beach Blanket Bingo meets The Evil Dead". The two fished the script around to various studios for years, but to no avail.
Following the end of production on Stern and Winter's MTV sketch comedy show The Idiot Box, staff writer Tim Burns was recruited to join the two in a number of rewrites. The film was completely revisioned, dropping the aspect of the Butthole Surfers entirely and turning it into a full comedy in the vein of the Monty Python and MAD Magazine-inspired humour that was present in The Idiot Box.
Winter and Stern pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox. Joe Roth, the head of the studio at that time, loved the idea and offered the two a twelve million dollar deal to direct it, despite the fact that neither of them had any experience directing a major Hollywood film and had never even shot on 35mm film before. The only condition was that the film had to be rewritten and toned down to fit a PG-13 rating; therefore, most of the profanity was written out of the final draft to fit MPAA standards. Within a month of being picked up, the film began production.
The makeup effects requirements for the film were so substantial, and the lead time before filming was so short, the makeup effects characters for the film were designed and created by three different companies: Tony Gardner (designer)'s company Alterian, Inc., Steve Johnson's XFX, Inc., and Screaming Mad George's Studio.
20th Century Fox had such high expectations for the film that they released a number of products based on it, including a line of action figures, a novelization and, most notably, a comic book released by Hamilton Comics (however, since the comic was drawn before most of the casting was completed, none of its characters look anything like their real-life counterparts).
During filming, Joe Roth was fired as studio head by Rupert Murdoch and replaced with Peter Chernin, who didn't like the film nor the fact that twelve million dollars was being invested in it. Chernin cut the film's post-production budget, thus forcing a lot of the soundtrack (including a demo song that Iggy Pop had recorded for the closing credits) and special effects to be greatly cut down or eliminated altogether. The film's title was changed, as well, from the poorly received "Hideous Mutant Freekz" to the supposedly more accessible "Freaked", a title neither Winter nor Stern much cared for.
After several poor test screenings, Fox chose to pull the film from a nationwide release and cut its advertising budget, leaving no money for commercials or newspaper ads. Freaked had its official premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 1993. Despite initial positive critical response, the film opened October 3, 1993 in the United States on only two screens, making a mere $6,957 in its first weekend. It quickly dropped out of theatres, making less than $30,000 and becoming a failure at the box-office, and was released on VHS on April 20, 1994.
Freaked received a mostly mixed response from critics. Entertainment Weekly described the film as "having more laughs than a month of Saturday Night Live", The New York Times hailed it as one of the top comedies of the nineties, and John Kricfalusi, the creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show, called it "the funniest movie in years". Alternatively, Variety criticized the film, claiming "the filmmakers simply try too hard to displease", while Time Out New York stated "the sum is worse than it's [sic] (very ugly) parts". The movie currently holds a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 15 reviews.
Freaked eventually went on to win two awards: the Grand Prize at the 1995 Gérardmer Film Festival and Best Actor (for "The Creatures of the Film") at the 1994 Fantafestival. The film was also nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Make-up.
On July 12, 2005, Anchor Bay Entertainment and 20th Century Fox released a special-edition two-disc DVD, featuring extra material, including deleted scenes, audio commentary, behind-the-scenes footage and two short films from Alex Winter and Tom Stern, the 15-minute film noir parody Squeal Of Death and a black-and-white skit titled NYU Sight & Sound Project. This DVD has since gone out of print.
On August 6, 2013, Anchor Bay and Starz Inc. re-released the movie on DVD and Blu-ray. This new release does not include any of the bonus features from the earlier, now out of print DVD.
A soundtrack release for Freaked was planned, but following the loss of their post-production budget, the idea never came to fruition. The score was composed by Kevin Kiner, with additional music by Paul Leary and Butthole Surfers, and Blind Idiot God. The songs featured in the film were as follows:
- "Freaked" - Henry Rollins and Blind Idiot God
- "Gumby Jack Flash" - Paul Leary
- "Rip/Stop" - Blind Idiot God
- "Butter Queen" - Butthole Surfers
- "Hideous Mutant Freekz" - Parliament Funkadelic and Bill Laswell
- "Sweat Loaf" - Butthole Surfers
- "Freekz! (That's What They Call Us!)" - Mark Evans, Mark Free, & Greg Welchel
- "Midget Man Skank" - Blind Idiot God
- "Cha Bump" - Bald Bill Hagan and His Trocaderons
- "Gluehead Stomp" - Blind Idiot God
- "'The Murder" (from Psycho) - Bernard Herrmann
- Stern, Tom; Winter, Alex (2005). DVD Commentary for 'Freaked' (DVD). Anchor Bay.
- Freekland.com (2005). "The Official Freekland Website". Archived from the original on September 24, 2010. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- Burns,Tim (2005). A Conversation with Tim Burns (DVD). Anchor Bay.
- IMDb.com (2005). "IMDb Business Statistics for 'Freaked'". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- Burr, Ty (October 15, 1993). "EW review of 'Freaked'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- Klady, Leonard (September 13, 1993). "Variety Review of 'Freaked'". Variety Magazine. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- TCH (1993). "Time Out New York review of "Freaked"". Time Out New York. Archived from the original on November 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-21.