Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 30th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: USA, September 25th, 1974
Director: Jack Cardiff
Writers: Edward Mann, Robert D. Weinbach
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Tom Baker, Brad Harris, Julie Ege, Jill Haworth
DVD released: September 27th, 2005
Approximate running time: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English, Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Subversive Cinema
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.95
Synopsis: Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence) lifetime ambition as a scientist is to make one living new breed of species out of humans and plants. To help him in his experiments he has enlisted the help of a disfigured man Lynch (Tom Baker) who is also known at the freak show circus he runs as the ugliest man alive. Lynch has agreed to help the professor and in return the professor has promised to cure his disfigurement. Does the professor really intend to help Lynch or is he just stringing him along to help further his experiments?
The Freakmaker borrows heavily from horror films from the past with its two most obvious influences being Tod Browning’s Freaks and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Donald Pleasence’s portrayal of a mad scientist who is so driven by his obsession to create a new form of life is one of his better performances of his career. While most actors would take a part like this and dive in the deep end. There is a subtly to Pleasence’s performance that keeps the character grounded for most of the picture at lasts until the appropriate time in which he character starts to lose his grasp on reality. One of the most fascinating aspects of this film is its use of time-lapse nature photography which was shot by Ken Middleham. This footage enhances the film plot by adding something visually that the films budget could never create.
Considering the low budget nature of this film it is amazing how much they were able to achieve and the cast they were able to assemble. Two other notable actors in the film are Brad Harris who originally rose to fame in the early 1960’s starring in Pelpum films and Tom Baker who shortly after this film was released would go on to become the fourth incarnation of Doctor Who. Baker who is in make up most of the film gives the most interesting performance in the film and the more time you spend with his character Lynch the more you start to feel for him. Many of the cast members are played by actually people with deformities and many of them are not that easy to look at. The films eclectic score was composed by Basil Kirchin who also wrote scores for The Shuttered Room and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Films scores are in integral part to most films and Kirchin’s score immediately sets the tone. The Freakmaker was directed by celebrated cinematographer Jack Cardiff who as a cinematographer on such cinema’s classic including Powell & Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and John Huston’s The African Queen. Cardiff is able to get some much with so little and every frame in the film looks beautifully composed. The Freakmaker would be the last film that Cardiff director and at the age of ninety one he continues to works as a cinematographer. This film is a mish mash of idea’s taken form various horror films and the end result is something that is a lot of fun despite some of its disturbing content about deformities.
Subversive Cinema presents The Freakmaker in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This progressive scan transfer sports solid colors that never bleed into each other and healthy looking flesh tones. The black levels are in good shape as details are reasonably sharp through out with some minor instances during darker scenes. Grain is kept to a minimum and the image remains stable. There are no problems with compression or artifacts and there is some minor edge enhancement. Overall this is another amazing transfer from Subversive Cinema that is nearly flawless.
This DVD comes with two audio options the films original Dolby Digital mono mix or a newly created for this release stereo remix. Both audio tracks are presented in English and to my ears they sound nearly identical. The audio is free or any distortion or any audio defects. The music and effects sound evenly mixed with a few minor exceptions when the music overpowers the rest of the soundtrack. The dialog like the rest of the audio mix is in great shape even though it does feel a bit thin at times as I had to turn up the volume.
Extras for this release include the films original trailers as well as trailers for some of Subversive Cinema’s other releases. There are bios for Donald Pleasence, Tom Baker, Brad Harris, Jack Cardiff and Robert Weinbach. Liner notes about the film and lobby cards. Other extras include a featurette titled “How to Make a Freak” which includes interviews with Brad Harris, Jack Cardiff and Robert Weinbach. Overall all three men have plenty of things to say and there is some information in this featurette that is also discussed during the two audio commentaries. Rounding out the extras are two audio commentary tracks. The first one features Jack Cardiff and moderated by Subversive Cinema’s Norm Hill. This commentary tends to be more scene specific then the other one as there are gaps in between Jack Cardiff’s comments. The second audio commentary which features Brad Harris, Robert Weinbach and is also moderated by Subversive Cinema’s Norm Hill is arguably the best extra included on this release. There is rarely a moment of silence in this one as both Harris and Weinbach are filled with memories and details about the production. Also included for this release are replica lobby cards and a poster. There is an Easter egg which can be found via the DVD credits page. Just simple highlight the laser in the middle of the screen and the films original opening credits for when it was titles Mutations will appear. Subversive Cinema has rescued another cult classic from obscurity giving it the first class treatment on its DVD debut. The Freakmaker is an unusual film that harkens back to the style of classic monster movies of the golden age of Hollywood, recommended.