I was nearing my ninth birthday and preparing for the fourth grade during summer 1994. My best friend was away for the summer leaving me on my own to search for new ideas and sources of inspiration. I was overflowing with boundless energy fueled by Fruit-by-the-Foot, Gushers fruit snacks, and Welch’s fruit-flavored soda but never any actual fruit. My greatest joy came from staying up odd hours of the night alone and watching videotapes rented from Cox Video.
One night, while looking at the new release wall, something caught my eye. A slender VHS case with a canary yellow spine with the word “FREAKED” in funky, bright-pink letters. The cover was sky blue, featuring unusual characters along the border including a sock-puppet man, a cow man, Mr. T, and Michael Stoyanov who I recognized from his role as the brother in Blossom who doesn’t utter a dumb catchphrase. Freaked stars Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure alum Alex Winter. Winter co-wrote and co-directed this feature alongside Tim Burns and Tom Stern. Hideous Mutant Freekz, at its inception, was meant to be an offensive, crude, and violent horror film. After Fox provided the creators with a budget of $12 million, the film was toned down considerably, placing it in the comedy genre with a PG-13 rating and the title was altered to Freaked. It tested poorly and was not widely distributed. Luckily, it wound up on video shelves for unsuspecting weirdos like me to discover.
There are no trailers before Freaked, which opens to flashing strobing images and the most aggressive music my 8-year-old ears had ever heard. Henry Rollins’ guttural screams, fast drums, and jarring guitar riffs blast bombastically alongside an incredibly psychedelic and brightly patterned title sequence by artist David Daniels. Claymation depictions of freaky characters are smeared transitioning into new images. It’s harsh and unsettling, but I absolutely love it.
The story begins with an unusual news bulletin about a “flying gimp” that has been destroyed. It is now safe for people to return to their homes. This is never explained. Why did they have to leave their homes? Your home is supposed to be the safest place you can be. Yet, there is this threat that is exceptional - it can fly but also is hindered -it is a gimp. Crisis averted, so don’t worry about that. The scheduled program resumes, which is a talk show called "The Skye Daley Show." Brooke Shields as Skye Daley appears bubbly and bright in contrast to her guest Ricky Coogin (Alex Winter) sitting in shadows of a heinous silhouette.
Ricky is a has-been child star who becomes the spokesman for a company called E.E.S. (Everything Except Shoes) and is accompanied by his friend Ernie (Michael Stoyanov) to promote a hazardous chemical called Zygrot-24. The pair flies to Santa Flan, an island named after the patron saint of creamy desserts. They trick an eco-activist named Julie (Megan Ward from Encino Man) into traveling with them and fall prey to Freak Show proprietor Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid). This sun-scorched redneck transfigures the Gen X trio into hideous mutant freaks. The supporting cast features Mr. T as the bearded lady and Bobcat Goldthwaite as a hand-puppet freak called Sockhead. Keanu Reeves is uncredited as Ortiz the Dog Boy. He is covered in fur and sounds like Antonio Banderas. They are forced to perform hokey vaudeville acts for crowds, and chaos ensues. The freaks band together to emancipate themselves from the clutches of Skuggs. In one memorable scene, two walking, giant Rastafarian eyeballs attempt to thwart an escape effort with the entire gang disguised as old-fashioned milkmen. It is amazing.
Freaked triumphs in its enduring audacity. There are so many tropes and gags jammed into this story, but it never feels overwrought. The pacing is nimble, and the saga is truly unique. The production design, sets, and makeup are unlike anything. While it certainly has a late-1980s/early-1990s aesthetic, repeat viewings are never cloyingly reminiscent of that era. It feels timelessly original. In the midst of a cavalcade of grotesque visuals, there is an endearing sweetness to this passion project.
I have never seen a widescreen version of this movie and was delighted to find that the film is available in its entirety on YouTube with extra scenes. When Cox Video ultimately closed down five years after I first saw Freaked, I purchased the exact VHS copy of the film I had rented countless times. It remains one of my most valuable possessions.
Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.