She Freak (1967)

SheFreakPosterA surprisingly unremarkable movie in all aspects, especially considering its subject matter, She Freak pointlessly updates Tod Browning’s Freaks by adding a twenty minute prologue detailing star Claire Brennen’s (Jade) unhappiness at her job in a small town diner. I don’t know about anyone else, but I paid my two bits to see pinheads, geeks, fat ladies, strongmen, and seal boys, not to watch Jade rebuff the greasy tub of a boss she has before running off to the join the carnival.

As things unfolded, it rapidly became evident that the only freak we’d really get to see much of is the horse-faced Jade. Sure, there were some scenes of Blackie, the hunk who ran the Ferris Wheel, posing without his shirt on, but a guy without hair on his chest falls more into the “wuss” category than into full-blown freak status.

Like most uneducated gals with dead end jobs in greasy spoons, Jade is looking for any way out and when an advance man for a traveling carnival rolls in and orders one of Mel’s famous grilled cheeses, she takes a chance on catching on with the Show (that’s what us carnies call it) and goes off to meet the manager to see what sort of work is available.

Her chance-taking immediately pays off as she is able to land the coveted job of waitress at the carnival, thus enabling her to laugh in the face of her old boss and his crappy job where she was a waitress.

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I was still with the movie at this point (in spite of its way too long set up – I figured that just meant an even greater concentration of freak action later on) because in the town where I grew up, the traveling carnival was always seen as a career path for 14 and 15 year old girls. In fact, the carny was such a big deal that the roughies and roustabouts were viewed as celebrities in their own right and frequently fulfilled the requests of underage girls to autograph their underpants. And the carny raised money for the fire department, so everyone in the community got something out of it.

She Freak is touted as being filmed on location at a carnival (as opposed to going through all the trouble to build a scuzzy midway from scratch) and director Byron Mabe (The Head Mistress and the star of The Defilers) isn’t about to let any of that footage go to waste.

Do you like to watch people wandering around the carnival? Do you want to see the carnival getting set up? Torn down? What about montages where there’s no dialogue, just carny Muzak grinding on and on in the background while Jade hangs out with her new carny family? It’s all here! Including an aerial shot that puts the grimy grandeur that is the carny on display for all to see! If you liked that part of The Greatest Show On Earth where the tents were being hoisted and stakes pounded into the ground, then you’ll no doubt get off on watching the circus’s ugly red-headed step child being constructed.

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As Jade settles into her job at the carny, Moon Mullins, the carnival’s stripper (what the heck kind of carnival is this?) befriends her and gives her the lay of the land. Specifically, Jade wants to know what her options are for marrying up the food chain of the carny.

Though at first blush joining up with the carnival in search of a man seems a bit offbeat, when you consider the competition (500 pound chick, the half-man/half-woman thing, the old gypsy fortune teller, the dog-faced girl) it might be something that you young ladies out there who are desperately co-dependent shouldn’t dismiss out of hand.

Jade sets her sights on Steven St. John, the middle-aged widower who owns the freak show. The only draw back to this is that Jade despises the freaks. Even after they get married and Steven has a fairly stilted conversation with her in bed about how freaks are people, too and bores Jade silly with his tale of a how he wouldn’t even pity the dude with no arms or legs because both of them are men and need to make a living, she can barely mask her repulsion.

And who can blame her? That midget named Shorty is always hanging around, hiding under the semis and spying on Jade whenever she leaves Blackie’s trailer after riding his Ferris Wheel, then tattling on her to her husband. Butt out, you little monster!

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Well, a love triangle between the Ferris Wheel hunk, the owner of the freak show, and the hussy who’s intent on making it big in the carnival can’t possibly last (especially when you’ve got these little trolls scurrying about taking notes on everything) and there’s a showdown at the motel where Jade is entertaining whichever guy isn’t back at the carnival. The resulting tragedy sets Jade and the freaks on a collision course where we finally get to see the freaks (at least for a few seconds).

It’s all too little too late, as by this time, any interest you’ve had in the movie has completely evaporated once it became apparent that neither anything very good or memorably bad was going to occur. Jade’s hatred of the freaks is dealt with in passing for the most part and she barely has any encounters with them until the end of the movie. The only freak who really gets any airtime is Shorty and he isn’t very sympathetic since he’s sticking his nose in other people’s business and stirring up crap for no reason.

Those looking for real freak action should stick to the original version. The addition of a carnival stripper and a busy body dwarf aren’t enough to justify a buying a ticket into this one.

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