Retro Review: ‘She Freak’

In 1932 legendary filmmaker Tod Browning unleashed his masterpiece Freaks on the movie going public. The film’s lurid subject matter and use of real circus freaks instantly made an impact becoming arguably the most controversial movie of its era. To this day Freaks still rests comfortably among the scariest movies ever made. In 1967, exploitation screenwriter/producer David F. Friedman decided he needed to remake this masterpiece, but unlike Browning his version would be super boring.

Living as a waitress in a rundown café, self-absorbed Jade has hopes for something bigger. This something bigger seems to come in the form of the carnival coming through town. She quits her going-nowhere job as a waitress to join this roaming caravan as…..a waitress still but for the carnies. This puts her in the prime position to seduce the man who runs the show to get a firm grasp on his wallet. While she marries him, Jade carries on an affair with the sleazy Blackie who assembles the rides. Of course Jade never shies away from showing her disdain towards the “freaks” of the freak show. Once she and Blackie murder her husband she is quick to fire them all…but the freaks will have their revenge.

Many grindhouse /exploitation movies of this era tend to hit a lull in pacing at some point in their flow as the screenwriter figures out how to pad for time. In She Freak a good 75% of the movie is paced like this as Friedman apparently has no idea what to do with his script. This means we as the audience are treated to an endless parade of musical montages. Rarely do these montages do anything to advance the plot or set the tone they are there to simply extend runtime as you watch endless footage of people setting up the rides or venturing through the midway. Making matters worse is that Jade, the only character who gets any kind of attention in She Freak is simply the worst in every way. There is not a single redeeming quality about her, and despite overacting to the nth degree in her performance, actress Claire Brennan has the charisma of a tree stump.

Easily the biggest cinematic sin of She Freak is the lack of actual She Freak or any freak for that matter. The strength of the far superior film it rips off is that it featured actual circus “freaks” and showcases them as fully-formed characters. It dared audiences to look beyond the physical differences and see their rich undeniable humanity within. In She Freak the only “freak” who gets any real screentime is veteran actor Felix Silla most famous for playing Cousin It in the Addams Family. Other than that, we see some supposed “freaks” at the film’s climax but they are mostly just regular people under strange lighting and sometimes some haphazardly applies make-up.

Those who frequent this site know that many of the grindhouse and exploitation films I Retro Review are hidden masterpieces well worth seeking out. She Freak is not one of these flicks. In fact the only positive thing I can say about this movie is that the good people at American Genre Film Archive did an incredible job remastering it for home release.