The US VHS cover of Freaked
|Directed by||Alex Winter|
|Produced by||Stephen Chiodo|
Harry J. Ufland
Mary Jane Ufland
|Written by||Tim Burns|
|Music by||Kevin Kiner|
Paul Leary/Butthole Surfers
Blind Idiot God
|Edited by||Malcolm Campbell|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
Freaked is a 1993 American comedy science fiction film directed by Tom Stern and Alex Winter, who also both writers with Tim Burns, and Winter starred in the lead role. 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. Freaked was Alex Winter's last feature film before he shifted to cameo and television films for many years until 2013's Grand Piano.
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. Ricky, completely in silhouette, begins his story.
Ricky is shown accepting an endorsement contract from slimy mega-corporation E.E.S. (Everything Except Shoes) to promote "Zygrot 24", a toxic fertilizer, in South America. Although hesitant at first, the greedy, self-centered Coogin caves in after their sleazy CEO (William Sadler) offers him $5,000,000. Ricky travels immediately to the South American town of "Santa Flan" 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). Stuey begs Rick not to promote Zygrot 24 only to accidentally fall out of the plane.
Once Ricky and Ernie arrive in Santa Flan, they cross paths with an angry group protesting Zygrot 24 and Ricky. In the group is environmentalist Julie (Megan Ward), who Ricky is instantly smitten with. The two con Julie into thinking they're also environmentalists (Ricky posing as a highly injured accident victim, his face covered in bandages) and she agrees to join them on a trip to another 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 local freak show only to wind up in the clutches of demented proprietor and mad scientist Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid) and his henchman, Toad (Jaime Cardriche). Utilizing his "Testy Freeks Machine", he merges Julie and Ernie into a single body and turns Ricky into a hideous green mutation. As Elijah has run out of Zygrot, only half of Ricky's body is mutated.
Ricky meets the other freaks, including Ortiz the Dog Boy (Keanu Reeves) Worm (Derek McGrath) a giant arthropod, Cowboy (John Hawkes) a literal anthropomorphic cow, the Bearded Lady (Mr. T in a dress) and Sockhead (Bobcat Goldthwait), who has a sock puppet for a head. Ricky has trouble adjusting to his new life as a freak, though he opens up when some of the other freaks recount how they were captured and disfigured by Elijah. During his first performance, Ricky foregoes his act (which inexplicably had him dressing like a caveman) and with some suggestions from Worm he performs a Shakespearean monologue which captivates the audience. Spotting his agent in the crowd, Ricky jumps off the stage hoping to be rescued, but flies into a murderous rage when the agent makes fun of him. Ricky tears his agent's head off and the crowd runs screaming into the night, with Elijah simply noting "that's what I call entertainment."
The next day Ricky discovers to his horror that he is seeing a floating specter of Stuey. He angrily shoes Stuey's astral form away, but Cowboy states that only a pair of soulmates can have such a strong telepathic bond. After multiple failed attempts to sell the story to newspapers Stuey manages to sell Ricky's story to the Weekly World News, who will print anything, but ends up being captured by a group of shady businessmen that work for E.E.S.
Ricky tries to escape by stealing the outfit of a milkman, only to be captured by Skuggs's gun-toting Rastafarian eyeball henchmen and brought before Elijah. Skuggs tells Ricky he plans to have him fully mutated into a blood-thirsty monster who will kill all the other freaks at the next show. On his way back to the freaks shed, he runs into the other freaks also making an escape attempt, and also dressed as milkmen. Ricky butts heads with Ortiz and the two fight until Ortiz is distracted by a squirrel and runs off, the Rasta eyeballs in pursuit. With Ortiz gone Ricky is named the new Freaks leader. Ricky and the freaks break into Skugg's lab to create a serum that will complete Ricky's mutation and have him kill Skuggs instead of the freaks. Ricky accidentally leaves the concoction in the lab, but finds a bag of tasty macaroons which the freaks enjoy.
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 24 and an imprisoned Stuey Gluck. As they discuss their plans to mutate the world's population into an race of E.E.S workers and consumers, Stuey follows a telepathic tip from Rick and manages to escape, grabbing the coffee can of mutation goo left behind by Ricky along the way.
On the night of the show, Stuey appears with the batch of Zygrot only to have an annoyed biker dump it onto him, which turns him into a grotesque seven-foot monster. Stuey kills the biker and prepares to storm the stage and save Ricky. The Rasta eyeballs attempt to kill Stuey but he kicks dust into their eyes, blinding them. Toad tries to swallow Stuey only for Julie and Ernie to throw an M80 onto Toad's tongue which he swallows and promptly explodes. In response, Elijah infects Ricky with his own Zygrot, turning him into an equally grotesque seven-foot monster. As Ricky and Stuey battle to the death onstage, Elijah notices the E.E.S. executives trying to steal his equipment. Elijah stops them by soaking them with a Zygrot bazooka, mutating and merging them all into a giant, fleshy shoe.
Right before Ricky is about to destroy Stuey, Cowboy reminds him that Stuey is his soulmate. A wave of compassion comes over him, and he gives Stuey a hug. Enraged, Elijah unsuccessfully tries to fight Ricky, who bashes him in the head, breaking his spine. Skuggs tries to get Ricky not to kill him by offering him the antidote for his mutation, telling him it was a time-delayed serum baked into a batch of macaroons. Ricky comments that he skimped on the sugar and punches Skuggs, sending him flying into the vat of Zygrot 24. An FBI task force arrives to save Ricky after having learned of Stuey's article. Skuggs suddenly reemerges from the Vat, having taken the form of Skye Daley. The FBI task force guns Skuggs/Skye down.
Back at the interview, it's revealed that Ricky had turned back to normal (along with most of the other freaks, except for Worm, who hates Macaroons). They are then joined by Ortiz who has finally caught the squirrel and Stuey, still a giant super-freak. Skye comments on Elijah mutating to look like her, and Ricky realizes that Skye actually is Elijah. 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
- Ray Baker as Bill Blazer
- Jaime Cardriche as Toad
- William Sadler as Dick Brian
- Alex Zuckerman as Stuey Gluck
- Brooke Shields as Skye Daley
- Michael Gilden and Joseph S. Griffo as Eye N. Eye
- Calvert DeForest (credited as Larry "Bud" Melman) as The President of the United States
The film, under the working title of 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'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
- "My Ass Is On Fire" - Mr Bungle
- "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.
- Warren, Bill (March 1993). "Hideous Mutant Freekz are people too". Fangoria #120. Starlog Group, Inc.
- 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.