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Freakshow
(1989)
 

Director: Constantino Magnatta             
Cast:
Audrey Landers, Peter Reed, Dean Richards


(Note: This movie is not to be confused with the 1995 Freakshow directed by William Cooke and Paul Talbot, and starring Gunnar Hansen.)

Freakshow is a movie so bad, that it doesn't appear to have received a theatrical release or a release on video. In fact, the only way you'll probably see it is if it appears on late-night cable, which is where I saw it. It deservedly joins Tony Curtis' The Mummy Lives on the short list of 90s movies that were so bad that the filmmakers would never get people to directly pay for them. And I'm talking about money, not time or sanity.

This is an anthology horror movie. This kind of movie is, in other words,  a collection of horror shorts usually linked together with some kind of surrounding story. The standard telling of these stories is to have some kind of "kick" or "twist" near or at the end of each one. I have enjoyed horror anthologies in comic-book format (mainly with EC's Tales From The Crypt and their other horror titles), but I generally haven't been satisfied with the horror anthology on the screen for primarily two reasons: (1) The stories in the movies generally are lame and totally predictable, and (2) the stories usually try to walk the tightrope between horror and humor as EC did, but swinging too much to the side of humor. Though the EC stories were definitely tongue-in-cheek, their aim was to play it as straight as possible to maintain some level of horror. Horror anthologies, on the other hand, seem determined that the audience won't miss the "it's just a joke!" message and hit them over the head with broad, unsubtle humor. Compare the yuk-yuk attitude of the movie Creepshow with the superb comic-book adaptation for a good example of this comparison.

The movie starts off with the departing patrons of a theater being machine-gunned down by a crazy punk who was recently dumped by his girlfriend, and then turning a gun on himself. All of this carnage is captured on tape for the evening news by reporter Shannon Nichols (Landers) and her cameraman, for she was tipped off by the punk earlier that something would be going down outside the theater that night. During her report, her cold and bitchy attitude disgusts her cameraman so much, he drives home without her. Stranded downtown and unable to flag down a cab, she wanders downtown, eventually finding herself outside a strange museum.

The proprietor of the museum invites her in to look at his exhibits. She decides to play along until she can find a telephone. Walking into a dark room lighted by blue lasers, she finds a large jar with some hideous thing in it. Looking at this jar starts to give her visions, and the proprietor tells her, "It's not what you see in the exhibit - but what the exhibit sees in you." On this note, the stories begin.

The first story involves a down on his luck junkie, going to a dealer called "The Doctor" to try to get a fix. When the dealer refuses to give the broke junkie some drugs, the enraged junkie kills the dealer with a microwave oven. However, the dealer's dog grabs the packet of drugs in its mouth and runs off, making the junkie spend almost all the rest of the story running after the dog while grunting, slobbering, and making a jackass of himself. Then when the director has enough footage, he puts an unsurprising end to the story in about ten seconds. Not only is this story unimaginative, it also looks more scummy and cheap than the rest of the movie - if that's possible.

The second story is even worse, and is the worst segment of the movie. On Halloween night at the Al Capone pizza parlor, the nerdy new guy Wilbur is told to go to 1313 Bram Stoker Boulevard (ha ha) to deliver a pizza, which the other fearful workers refuse to go to. After getting there, Wilbur spends some pointless time wandering around the dark mansion. Then he meets some young women in lingerie, and....I won't say what happens, because it is also pointless, as well as jaw-dropingly stupid. And like the previous story, has an unsurprising ending.

Then we go to the next story, which is the best of the four, but that's not saying much. The director manages to jar the viewer with an unexpected change in the story in the beginning, and slip into a familiar but still interesting premise. A young woman is thought to be dead after taking an overdose of a new street drug. She actually isn't, but is paralyzed all over. We hear her pleading thoughts on the soundtrack as her body is taken to the morgue and preliminary preparations for her autopsy are made. Her pleas and some effective editing made it look like this story was going somewhere - until it was ruined by a quick ending that had no imagination at all.

The last story has a story that might have been used in an EC comic on one of their bad days - though even the bad stories were better executed than this one. A golf-course owner, recently widowed, quickly strikes up a hot and heavy relationship with the young gravedigger who dug her husband's grave. Believing that graveyard dirt is full of nutrients, she pays him to take dirt from the graveyard and put it on her golf course. The greedy gravedigger keeps up the supply, digging up the soil on top of the graves and filling the holes with rocks. As you might guess, certain....individuals....become quite unhappy with this during the night that there's a big party at the golf club. Though this story suffers from the same cheap production values, bad acting, and writing as the other stories, the story framework is better constructed, and the finale provides a few wild moments and some acceptable makeup. I don't understand, however, why they used Canadian money in this segment, when in story 2 they used American money.

So what we have here is a movie that's a waste of time on its own. However, I think there's some use for it. Why not make a new movie with it and other terrible anthology movies, like Mania, Future Shock, and Dead Time Stories? Have some linking story of some unfortunate people forced to watch or hear about the worst stories of these already terrible movies. Now that would be terrifying.


UPDATE: Paul Corupe of the Canuxploitation web site sent this in:

"Believe it or not, Constantino Magnatta's Freakshow did actually receive a theatrical release-- the graphic on my site is a newspaper ad for the film. It played at the Garth Drabinsky-conceived Toronto Eaton Centre multiplex which jammed 12 screens into a small area. Although they are no longer open, some of these little boxes (which held no more than 50 people each and stank like urine) often exhibited weird bottom-of-the barrel junk throughout the mid-80s. I specifically remember seeing posters for things like Rabid Grannies, Parents and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot."

Check for availability on Amazon.

See also: Confessions Of A Serial Killer, Video Violence 2, Deadline

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