What if the third Bill and Ted movie was made by Troma with input from team behind Killer Tomatoes Strike Back? You’d probably get something that…vaguely resembles Freaked. Ricky Coogin (Alex Winter) is a shallow, egocentric movie star, and his best buddy Ernie (Michael Stoyanov) fly to South America on the dime of company E.E.S. to advertise for Zygrot-24 at the best of E.E.S. head Dick Brian (Bill Sadler). They manage to entangle ecological protester Julie (Megan Ward) despite her hatred for Ricky Coogin. The trip is then derailed by billboards advertising the “Elijah C. Skuggs Famous Freek Land & Mutant Emporium”, which they go to visit, and find the titular Skuggs not only runs but regularly adds to, though he already has a reasonable crew of freaks, in the forms of the Dog Boy, Hideous Frog Man, Human Worm, Cow Boy, Bearded Lady, and more.
Freaked is a weird movie. Sure, the above obviously indicates that, but it’s weird in other ways. Winter co-directs with Tom Stern, and both co-write with Tim Burns–all having previously worked on MTV sketch comedy show The Idiot Box. It’s the over-the-top, un-selfconsciousness of the early 90s (as evinced by a brighty coloured claymation set of title credits backed by Henry Rollins fronting Blind Idiot God for the title song) muddled with the endearingly unpretentious wildness that comes along with it. Tony Gardner’s Alterian, Inc., Steve Johnson, and “Screaming Mad” George designed insane effects for the weird variety of freaks and jokes. Many of said freaks are played by surprising names–Sokhead is voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait, Mr. T as the Bearded Lady, and Keanu Reeves is uncredited as Ortiz the Dog Boy.¹ Skuggs is played by an energetic Randy Quaid, and sort of embodies the ridiculousness of it all. Winter plays Coogin with an absurd level of forced cheesy grin, too–and there’s nothing terribly subtle about the vast majority of the movie.
Production design, character design, and jokes are the focus here: Winter’s “Beest Boy” make-up severely impedes his ability to act, though it looks fantastic. The characters and plot are incredibly broad strokes, but deliberately so, because it is, again, about making jokes (throwaways, absurdity, puns…) and showing off the designs. This means it is, unsurprisingly, pure early 90s cult-ery. It is, as a result, not for everyone–and it has a lot of humour-oriented hallmarks of the 90s, by which I mean “un-PC”, despite the reputation of that decade. Ernie and Julie are depicted regularly dueling in their exaggerated “chauvinist pig” and “woman who calls horny men chauvinist pig” roles so intensely familiar to any of us who watched things in/from this time period (fortunately, this, like those, never seems to endorse the ridiculous men, nor, despite the implications of excessive terminology, question the women who call these men out accurately. Or I’ve just interpreted all of that in everything for my entire life since childhood…).
I think the real litmus test, if there is one, is the fact that the movie was originally intended to star Gibby Haynes (who appears briefly!) and the rest of the Butthole Surfers (whose tracks “Sweat Loaf” and “Butter Queen” appear in the film), and the jokes are a weird mixture of Forbidden Zone with touches of the throw-shit-at-the-wall gags of, say, Hot Shots! both sprinkled with a hint of the darker sentiments of a Meet the Feebles. All of this sits (reasonably) well with me, but is not going to go over well for plenty of others–and I certainly wouldn’t proclaim this, for me, endlessly laugh-out-loud funny, but I find the misfires of a flick like this endlessly more palatable than the kind that come out of a movie filmed in the recent eras of hyper-self-awareness, lean on a sense of superiority to what came before (via inversion of tropes and expectations, deep digs and references, etc).
¹At least Benicio del Toro was credited for his Dog Boy role in Big Top Pee-Wee…