Movie Reviews 381 – The Mutations (1974)

I can recall the exact moment I became obsessed with the movie The Mutations (original UK title The Freakmaker). It was October 1974 when I first picked up issue 36 of the The Monster Times fresh off the corner newsstand. Within that newsprint ‘magazine’ I discovered not only a lengthy featured article and synopsis of the film, but also vivid depictions of the shocking monstrosities in this British horror. Unlike the many other movies and creatures in this and other horror magazines of the time, I knew nothing about this particular film and even more puzzling, never really heard about it again after reading that one magazine. Even in the era of cable TV and later video tape home viewing, this film was nowhere to be found which just made the desire to watch it all that greater. It was only in the digital age and the emergence of shoddy bootlegs that I could finally relish it.

The storyline is an amalgam of the prototypical mad doctor experimenting on live human victims merged with the storyline of human misfits dealing with a world that shuns them. But in this case college professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence) did not create the angst ridden, blob tumor faced Lynch (Tom Baker who is better known to Doctor Who fans (Whovians?) as the 4th and longest reigned doctor). In fact it is Lynch that abets Nolter with the promise of a cure for his condition.

Nolter lectures his students of his hypothesis that evolution will eventually hybridize man and plant life to create a superior being. But what Nolter does not tell anyone is that he isn’t content to wait a few millions year for that progression. He has taken on the task to speed up this evolutionary process in his home lab and to do so enlists the help of Lynch to round up human guinea pigs to be injected with prototype serums and isn’t even fazed when Lynch starts bringing Nolter’s own students as fodder.

The only people standing in Nolter’s way are the members of a travelling sideshow troupe who harbour Lynch, an outcast among outcasts, as they begin to suspect the full extent of Lynch’s secretive evening forays. Lynch’s only friend among the ‘freaks’ is their showrunner, the diminutive Burns (Michael Dunn). And just as Nolter believes he has finally achieved his goal – a former student turned into a human Venus Fly Trap no less – the creature escapes and in trying to warn the others raises the alarm to authorities and the suspicious elements within the sideshow.

This film was clearly an attempt to recapture the darkness of Tod Browning’s 1932 cult film classic Freaks which was the first film that daringly broached the topic of human anatomical abnormalities. This is not only evident by the original Freakmaker title and the inclusion of a travelling circus sideshow, but other factors such as borrowing the familiar “Not one of us” chant (sans the “Gooba Gabba” refrain) that has been the staple homage to Freaks in many film and TV series over the years. In this case the human menagerie includes a ‘Pretzel Man’, ‘Alligator Lady’, ‘Human Skeleton’, ‘Pop-Eye’, ‘Monkey Lady among the more usual bearded lady and kin. But equally intriguing are the many oversized, pulsating and appendaged flora in the professors own Little Shop of Horrors (Shades of Seymour!)

The presence of esteemed Pleasence aside (Baker is highly hardly noticeable as not only is his face deformed but it is kept under wraps and shadows the entire film), the producers decided to add a little more spice by taking a page from the Hammer studios cookbook and included some gratuitous shots most notably from minor Norwegian scream beauty queen Julie Ege.

These kinds of movies are as forgotten as the sideshows they relied on to draw a crowd. But as I can attest, they did have one turning heads and elicited curiosity. One can debate the exploitation of the afflictions of some of the cast but at least things had progressed even then to desist from including those incapable of deciding for themselves such as the microcephaly “pinheads” used in Freaks.

A product of the 70’s it is perhaps Ironic in that in the end the downfall of the mad scientist comes down to “those meddling kids!”, another 70’s creation.

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