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Freak Out
cast: James Heathcote, Dan Palmer, Nicola Connell, Yazz Letto, and Chilli Gold

director: Christopher James

98 minutes (15) 2005 widescreen ratio 16:9
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Christopher James' debut feature film Freak Out has the aroma of Troma. That is, sub-genres mocked, lame jokes, schoolyard buffoonery and rudeness, slap dash props, decor and costumes, and the belief that the, its, audience is as stupid as the makers. Not all of this is true of Freak Out but is all that they deserve. As the deluge of additional material across the two discs proves, the producer and director are characterful and can be clever, even occasionally funny. They suffer from comedy dyslexia. They seem to be confused as to what makes them amusing, and we only find the funny material estranged in the extras or in the thrown out scenes. Of course nothing is completely cut in the DVD age. They have estimable technical skills. The film also has a phenomenal number of edits. I estimate the edits fall somewhere short of Derek Jarman's The Last Of England, displaying a remarkable technical knack and bravery. Otherwise, there is little of praise here.

James Heathcote plays horror movie nerd Merv Doody. If only I could end the synopsis there. Stuff happens; nonsense follows; it ends. An escaped dunderheaded lunatic (voiced by Yazz Fetto) steals into his home, but proves a bit callow at the old slash and run game. Piffle and rot ensues. Behave! Taking the masked moron hostage, the disappointed Merv takes it upon himself to educate him in the art of movie serial killing: what not to wear, how to deliver deadly blows. His best friend, Onkey (Dan Palmer) is almost brained and most certainly genitally scalded but brought on board to speed up the learning curve. They encourage him in the direction of courting couples, but it is some time before the killer urge takes hold and the uncontrollable spree begins. Worse for wear with his hockey mask crumpling to mirror his derangement, the monster turns on its creators leading to a showdown at a shopping mall and a massacre of Larry Hagman fans. Don't ask! This film is particularly special in that I didn't realise how much I disliked it until I began writing about it.

It is the 21st century model to reward idiocy, be it a reality television contestant or the dim bastards who win thousands for answering one stupid question on Richard & Judy. Anchor Bay has rewarded James and associates with a double disc teeming with extras. The bonus material does eventually provide us with the chuckles that the feature film denied us. It is all of the sub-standard of that mock radio station that you and your friends recorded onto a C60 when you were a child. There is a skill buried beneath the dross. The camerawork and editing are very good but are easily overlooked as the rubbish is continually emptied over your head. The opening titles are a cleverly composed action sequence, with polished design and bouncy music. At another point a skit of Kenny Loggins' Maniac is played over a zippy montage of the schooling of the killer. Alan Parker might secretly admire these sequences. This is no horror show though, just a bucket of bad jokes. It purports to post-modernity but it was never going to work in the midst of such outright spoofery. Merv and Onkey discuss merchandise before their student can take his first victim.

The extras give me the excuse to leave further discussion of the film. There are two commentaries on disc one, one with James, Palmer and Fetto, and the second moderated by the Radio One movie critic James King, with James, Palmer, Heathcote, Nicola Connel and Chilli Gold chipping in. By selecting on/off on either commentary you can then locate a blood splat to the left of the resume button, which provides you with a two-minute rehearsal between Chilli Gold and Dan Palmer. On the main menu, if you hover on the 'K' in the film title another blood splat appears which gives you access to the eight and a half minute Heathtape, a series of subnormal auditioning footage of star Heathcote. The second disc opens with Make Out: Behind The Scenes Of Freak Out, a record of the four-year journey of the film (1999-2003), a college tour of the finished film, a jaunt to Cannes and Montreal's Fantasia Festival. It runs 51 minutes. Highlights to the remaining, innumerable extras include a music promo for 'Zaniac' (that phenomenally thieved Loggins' song track). Then there is the stage version of The Blair Witch Project featured in the film, abridged to three minutes and 39 seconds. There is a trailer for Arse Piranha, the short film excerpt Slash Puppy and a for-once genuine cable show appearance. The 16 deleted scenes are amusingly introduced by the makers, and include a sequence in the video shop featuring the actress who originally took and deserted the Abby role. But the incredible amount of material in creating their tawdry mythos over the seven years is appalling and, showing no abating, is ultimately depressing.

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