Schlock Junkie #3: She Freak

She Freak (Color, 1967) 83 min.
Image Entertainment /Something Weird Video
Directed by Byron Mabe
Produced by David F. Friedman
Written by David F. Friedman
Cinematography by William G. Troiano (as Bill Troiano)
Special Makeup by Harry Thomas
Original Music by Billy Allen
Format: Full Frame (1.33:1)

Supplementary Material: Theatrical Trailer, Scene Access, Audio Commentary by Mike Vraney and David F. Friedman, David F. Friedman Gallery of Exploitation Art, Archival Footage of Human Oddities and an Actual 1930’s Carnival Sideshow, Something Weird Promo Lead-In
Audio: Dolby Digital (Mono)

Cast: Claire Brennen, Lee Raymond, Bill McKinney, Lynn Courtney, Sandra Holcomb, Felix Silla, William Bagdad, David F. Friedman

She Freak is the most uncharacteristic film in the catalog of exploitation pioneer David F. Friedman. The picture is host to only one surprisingly short gore sequence — worlds away from the landmark films he made with one-time partner Herschell Gordon Lewis — and, even more shocking, contains no nudity whatsoever, something we’ve come to expect from the mastermind behind such sexploitation epics as Boin-n-g! (1963), Space Thing (1968), and Trader Hornee (1970). What She Freak is, however, is the purest distillation of the man that was David F. Friedman captured on film. An obvious outgrowth of his lifelong infatuation with the American carnival industry, the film is not only a morality play centered around a backwoods waitress with delusions of grandeur, but the truest representation of carny life ever recorded, written by a man who lived it.

Jade Cochran (the fetching Claire Brennen, who died of cancer ten years later), tired of her dead-end job waiting tables at a rundown roadside diner and the life which accompanies it, schmoozes a carny advance man (Ben Moore from Two Thousand Maniacs!) for information, and lands a job with a traveling roadshow. Jade quickly adapts to her new life, bonding with stripper Pat “Moon” Mullins (Lynn Courtney), and develops an unwholesome attraction to beefcake Ferris wheel operator Blackie Fleming (Lee Raymond). While on a break, Jade takes a stroll around the grounds and stumbles upon the carnival’s sideshow of human oddities. Horrified and repulsed by what she has seen, she quickly vacates the attraction, screaming. The incident results in the girl developing a burning hatred for nature’s unfortunate victims, and she directs her disgust at the symbol for that which she has come to loathe, a midget named Shorty (Felix Silla, who played an Ewok in Return of the Jedi, a penguin in Batman Returns, and was Buck Rogers’ sidekick, Twiki). While still finding comfort in the arms of Blackie, Jade ignites a romance with the owner of the sideshow, Steve St. John (Bill McKinney, who also showed up, coincidentally, in Carny (1980), and Frank Darabont’s mesmerizing adaptation of Stephen King’s The Green Mile), and the two are eventually married. One night, Shorty notices Jade emerging from Blackie’s trailer after one of their late-night trysts, and quickly notifies St. John, who backhands the midget in disbelief. St. John eventually catches the two in the act and is killed during the resulting skirmish, making Jade the legal owner of the sideshow. She promptly fires Shorty and begins to reap the attraction’s rewards. The freaks, however, have plans of their own for their new boss…

Friedman not only visually depicted the mystique of the American carnival, but also adopted the sideshow methodology — that of sensationalism and preying upon man’s innate attraction to the unknown — to tell his tale. Unlike the sideshow hyperbole after which it was patterned, however, Friedman’s cinematic banter actually delivers; the final sequence showcasing Harry Thomas’ superb makeup effects is not something soon forgotten. I had more than a few sleepless nights after seeing this film as a child, thanks to Jade’s horrifying transformation. Everything in the scene works perfectly — the eerily effective makeup; Claire’s agonizingly slow, tremorous turn towards the camera; and her devilish grin as she advances on the aghast onlookers — resulting in one of the finest sequences ever captured on film.

Proof positive that the universe works in very strange and mysterious ways, a prop corpse used in the production of She Freak was actually the mortal remains of notorious Wild West outlaw, Elmer McCurdy, shot in his hideout on October 7, 1911, after a botched train robbery. His arsenic-embalmed corpse was soon put on display by an enterprising undertaker for the curious to ogle for a nickle a pop. Five years later, the undertaker sold the body to a pair he believed to be McCurdy’s brothers but were in fact James and Charles Patterson of the Great Patterson Carnival show. Once again, McCurdy’s corpse made the rounds as a sideshow attraction until it was sold in 1928 to Louis Sonney’s Museum of Crime. Over the many years, the body had become so mummified and disfigured that those who gazed upon the shriveled thing believed it to be the work of a special effects artist, not the actual physical remains of an actual human being. In 1976, many years after its brief appearance in She Freak, the pseudoprop landed on a set of The Six Million Dollar Man (for an episode entitled, coincidentially, Carnival of Spies). After a prop man, adjusting the position of the body, broke off an arm, the exposed McCurdy jerky and
bone revealed the truth and the body was sent to a coroner’s office for examination. Eventually, the body was identified as McCurdy’s and was buried in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetary in Guthrie, Oaklahoma. Two solid feet of concrete was laid above the casket so that no one would steal the body. The fact that a Wild West outlaw turned sideshow attraction would appear in a film about the carny life makes perfectly twisted cosmic sense.

Once again, Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video have hit the bullseye with their Special Edition of David F. Friedman’s She Freak. The transfer is, without question, one of the finest I have ever witnessed. Presented in full frame (contrary to a popular online film database, which lists the original aspect ratio for the film as 1.85:1 — Mike Vraney, who owns the one and only original film negative, has assured me that the film was shot as presented), She Freak looks astoundingly good. One only has to compare the feature with the theatrical trailer, also presented on the disc, to see the extent of the film’s restoration. The color and detail are nothing short of remarkable; the kaleidoscopic hues inherent to the carnival atmosphere are rendered with amazing accuracy. To put it simply, this film has never, ever looked this good. As if that weren’t enough, the audio commentary by Vraney and Friedman is one of the better sessions in the Something Weird line. Free of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ often oppressive and boisterous demeanor, Friedman takes center stage, lovingly relating the history of the film, his carnival experiences, life in the exploitation industry, and a crash course on carny jargon. It’s every bit as enjoyable as the feature it highlights and gives modern audiences a glimpse into a life that very few have lived. In addition to the customary gallery of exploitation art, SWV has included a rare (but excruciatingly short) film highlighting an actual 1930’s sideshow, a pair of Siamese twins, and a hilarious pinhead sequence. Do yourself a favor, run out and pick up She Freak (or any other Something Weird title, for that matter), and judge the quality for yourself. After one look at their magnificent transfers and generous supply of supplementary material, you will definitely become as hooked as I have.

  • lawnbuddha

    “Filmed on actual locations where it could have happened!” – might be the greatest schlock copy ever!