Friday, January 10, 2014

She Freak (1967)

... aka: Alley of Nightmares
... aka: Asylum of the Insane
... aka: Freaks!

Directed by:
Byron Mabe

Young waitress Jade Cochran (Claire Brennen), a sandy blonde with straight bangs, an upturned snout, sun-baked skin and a Steven Tyler mouth, turns heads at the cafe she works at. The redneck customers hit on her. Her sleazebag married boss - appropriately named Greasy (Claude "Smith" / Earl Jones) - hits on her. Everyone hits on her... but Jade wants something more. Raised in a dirt poor household in dusty Texas with a miserable mom who had eight other kids to raise, Jade is determined to make it and, according to her, she'll beg, lie, cheat and steal to get where she wants to be in life. Show promoter Ben Thomas (Ben Moore) comes in to get a bite to eat and asks to hang a poster. From him, Jade learns that a carnival is about to pass through town, and she figures that may be the next step to getting her life turned around. You hear that, kids. If you want to make something of yourself, forget about college; just go join a sleazy traveling carnival instead. When Greasy finds out Jade plans on ditching her job there, he has a few kind parting words for her: "Get out of here you carnival tramp... I don't want you givin' my customers no disease!"

Jade goes to see the carnival owner Al Babcock (Vanteen), and ends up getting a job as a waitress. Customers and her new boss like the fact she "has it together." She meets Moon Mullins (Lynn Courtney), a friendly strip-tease artist who dances as lewdly as the law allows in her fringe-covered bikini at a burlesque review. Looking for a roommate, Moon suggests she and Jade split costs on a motel room and warns her to stay away from studly, womanizing ride foreman Blackie Fleming (Lee Raymond). So what does Jade do? Why, she immediately heads right out after Blackie and the two end up literally rockin' his trailer. Soon after, she finds out about a bigger fish in the pond in the form of Steve St. John (Bill McKinney), a wealthy middle-aged widower who owns the freak show exhibit that Jade can't stand going into. Though she thinks "They're disgusting!" and nice guy Steve is a freak sympathizer, he has a vacation home in Tampa, a brand new black Cadillac and other such perks that come along with snagging him. Jade decides to make her move and soon enough the two are married... but the new bride can't resist the passion Blackie has to offer and resumes her affair with him behind her husband's back. Could death, revenge, a fitting disfigurement and a bible quote be too far in the future?

This is a very blatant rip-off of Tod Browning's classic Freaks (1932) stripped of that film's quirky insight, its memorable cast, its humanity and its chilling finale. It begins the same way with a disclaimer followed by an opening sequence where a carnival barker (played by an uncredited David F. Friedman, who also wrote and produced) is about to present a disturbing human freak not for kids or those with nervous disorders, weak hearts or queasy stomachs. Said exhibit turns out to be the leading lady after the freaks get done with her, just as it panned out for Olga Baclanova in Browning's film. Speaking of freaks, this film barely even features them! We get to see a couple of dwarfs, a geek, a "herpetologist hypnotist" and a sword swallower briefly, but that's it. No amazing real-life "mistakes of nature" like the Browning film. Zero characterization. No glimpses into their lives. They simply come out during the rushed finale to teach the greedy Jade a lesson. Instead of focusing on them, time is padded out with endless montages of customers doing ordinary things at the carnival (riding rides, playing games) and the workers setting things up, all set to a sleep-inducing light jazz score. It's pretty boring aside from some amusing bits of dialogue here and there and the final unveiling of the "She Freak" (admittedly a very good make-up job for the time).

Felix Silla co-stars as a nosy dwarf named Shorty. Rumor has it that he and Brennen carried on a secret affair for nearly a decade after this was made until her untimely death from cancer in 1977 at age 43. The cast also includes William Bagdad as a toothless drunk who gets a screwdriver jammed into his hand during a fight and the director as a police officer. For a 1971 reissue, director Donn Davison added a few minutes worth of 3D effects and it was released under the new title Asylum of the Insane. It's on DVD from Something Weird.

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