In an effort to watch more actors that I actually like, I searched for movies on Amazon a while ago that had Donald Pleasence in them. I always like Donald Pleasence, from great roles he played throughout his career, but I especially loved him once I saw the Australian film Wake in Fright. That movie made him one of my top actors. He brings a sort of a crazed edge to a otherwise normal looking guy. His intensity can be called upon seemingly at any time.
In this 1974 exploitation movie, Donald plays a genetic scientist who is trying to create something by mixing humans with plants. I couldn't tell you what the desired result of this is, but the outcome is genetically malformed human beings. Hence the name of the movie, The Freakmaker. There's a woman with scales, there's a hairy guy, a guy with weird legs, etc, it's your normal range of real human deformities that are exploited here on the screen for the audience, much like in the movie Freaks from 1932. So it's nothing new. However, this method hasn't been used a whole bunch.
Sure, movies are known to have midgets. If anyone can vouch for that it's me, since now I have reviewed about 10 movies that have midgets as central characters. Movies are also known to have tall actors. Big dudes. From roles for men like Richard Keil to Carel Struycken to all those other giants. But not a ton of movies make exploitation of the other genetic freaks. So this is an example of real exploitation, not the fake kind.
Mostly the movie is a slow build. The freaks that Donald Pleasence makes are sold to a circus, where they put on shows for the paying populace. In the opening part of the movie, Donald Pleasence's mad creater character Nolter is approached by a man named Lynch, who has a totally fucked up face. He wants Nolter to make him look normal again, and thus they set off on this series of experiments to try to get Lynch looking normal. Nolter experiments on other freaks and normal humans, combining them with the plants, and doesn't seem to make a lot of progress. Lynch gets hella pissed off. He distances himself from the other freaks and from Nolter and goes all out for revenge.
The freaks themselves do get featured a lot, but most of them don't have a lot of screen time. Of course they were real people, not actors, and that might be why. We get "treated" to one freak show, where we "get" to see some of them do whatever it is they do. There's an easy favorite of a guy who can seemingly pop his eyes partially out of their sockets. It's pretty cool, actually.
What else.....? Hm. Donald Pleasence is pretty good as the freakmaker dude, but his character is one dimensional and never does anything all that cool in the movie. It's a lot of screen time for lead midget Michael Burns as Dunn. Michael Burns was also the midget in Werewolf of Washington! Other than that this movie had not a whole lot to say about it. It's a very low key kind of movie, everything feels a little dialed down for the first say 70 minutes, then it finally picks up at the end.
Finally, Nolter makes a real monster, some sort of giant carnivorous plant thing:
This monster has a Cheeto as a chest
Monsters and freaks and Donald Pleasence aside, like I said it all feels kind of toned down. Like they wanted to perhaps approach this as a drama/horror or maybe as a more true to life film. I guess that should be respected, but when you are gonna have badass monsters like the dude above, you should maybe make your movie mood fit the monster, not cram your awesome monster into an otherwise yawn-inducing movie. For that I only give it 2.5 stars.