Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Hideous Mutant Freekz

The Golden Age of Pop Culture for me dates from around 1989 to 1999, and I'm not just talking about movies. For the purposes of this post, I cite one of the most influential early 1990s television programs MTV ever aired, "The Idiot Box," created by Alex Winter, Tom Stern, and Tim Burns and running from 1990-1991. "The Idiot Box" was a half hour sketch comedy series that would be better labeled as deranged humor than absurdist. It's manic, kinetic, non-sequitor assortment of satirical parodies featured exclusive use of ADR, and mostly Winter's VO, resulting in Winter and Stern's characteristic style of mocking mainstream television corporate structured advertising and production.

One of my earliest childhood memories was visiting a house where I remember playing with Lite-Brites and being astounded at something on TV that an older boy was watching. All I recall is seeing the dude who played Bill S. Preston Esq. (Winter) being chased through a set that resembled The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi) with the Ram-A-Cam by a bald woman, while Bill yells, "Oh no, it's SinĂ©ad!"

"The Idiot Box" was my introduction to television sketch comedy programs and I've been keeping up ever since. "Portlandia" is a lot more like "The Idiot Box" than it is "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "Saturday Night Live," or "The Kids In the Hall."

And then there's the tale of one of the rare instances in Hollywood History when someone slips something past a major studio, gets a ton of money, makes something the studio ends up disowning, but because the film survives on home video and repertory screenings, becomes a cult classic. The way the story goes basically is that after the success of Bill & Ted, Alex Winter pitched a similar vehicle to star he and (a disguised in dog makeup) Keanu Reeves to Twentieth and they gave him fifteen million dollars before they realized they hated his film, Hideous Mutant Freekz.

Have you ever found the style of a filmmaker so brilliant and enjoyable that you wish you could see other work they've done in the same vein? Jackpot!


The $15,000,000, Twentieth Century Fox-produced, Special Effects by the most elite and legendary artists working-endowed gross-out comedy Freaked (1993, Tom Stern and Alex Winter) screened in a 35mm print, and I was able to attend the viewing.

The plot is that Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid) illegally purchases a toxin called Zygrot 24, which has hideous freak side effects, and shanghais a band of victims to perform in his sideshow, Freek Land.

This is "The Idiot Box" the movie, for sure. Fans will get all of the trademark ADR cheesiness, interchangeable absurdist roulette structure that gives "Family Guy" a decent run for its money, Alex Winter, and stupid gross humor; and Freaked opens with a VO PSA that it's safe to return to your homes because the "Flying Gimp," has been killed.

I've had a few memories of watching a movie for the first time in the theatre and being shocked at the consistency of the amount of times I'd laugh. Usually upon revisiting the films, I could not recreate the alchemy. I think for me it was BASEketball (1998, David Zucker) first--I'd learn that ZAZ did this as early as The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977, John Landis); then there wasn't really anything similar until "Family Guy." Yeah, when I first saw "Family Guy" I was enthralled because I felt like I was laughing every 30 seconds non-stop, every episode for the first season.

Anyway, I haven't been able to watch "Family Guy" since the previous millennium. But Freaked was as good as I'd always remembered.

The big budget shows. The production design, sets, costumes, and especially the prosthetic special effects are dynamite. Alex Winter as Ricky Coogin spearheads the adept comedic ensemble in the raucous, rowdy, raunchy, ribald, rotting putrid gem of a freak show.

I love Stuey Gluck (Alex Zuckerman) in all of his overly-sentimentalized, Steinbeck meets The Champ adorned goofball screen appearances.

The sound design is as aggresively Hollywood as Jablonsky doing Transformers. And this production comes off seamlessly because the creators actually worked for 2 years on development before the cameras were brought in for production. They left nothing to chance, which is very impressive for a first-time director.

Some of the pop culture references might be lost on some (like the "Jake and the Fatman" diss.) But most of the gags are, what Winter describes as, "dumb jokes that only guys get." I laughed the hardest I have in a long time at the scene where they reveal flashbacks for every freak to show how they were shanghaied by Skuggs. The last flashback tilts down to a hammer on the ground. Next, intense suspensful music, sound effects, lighting and editing reveal through flashback that once upon a time Skuggs bought this character as a wrench in a hardware store.

Aesthetically this movie is important because I love all things toxic, pop culture, and absurdist black comedy. And I really can't express how important this film is to me, being one of the trashiest oddities I actually hold as high art.

--Dregs

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