‘Behind the tents and tinsel of a monster midway something barbaric occurs on the alley of nightmares’
She Freak is a 1967 American exploitation horror feature film directed by Byron Mabe from a screenplay written by David F. Friedman. The film is broadly based on the classic 1932 Tod Browning film, Freaks. Although She Freak features far fewer of the real-life sideshow performers seen in the earlier film, it is still notable for its footage of actual sideshows and as an example of 1960’s exploitation filmmaking.
We are introduced to Jade Cochran (Claire Brennan), a dissatisfied waitress in a run-down greasy roadside cafe who is determined to make a better life for herself. Somewhat remarkably, she considers that waiting the tables at the local carnival, which has just hit town, is a step up the social ladder. It seems she has a point – the people are friendlier and more money is coming in – this is the good life after all, although she’s none too keen on the strange faces and figures of some of the more exotic parts of the carnival. She befriends an exotic dancer named Moon (Lynn Courtney) and in turn Steve St. John (Bill McKinney, The Deliverance, Cleopatra Jones, in his first screen role), the carnival owner, whom she immediately sees as marriage material, for his money if nothing else.
Sadly, once married, the money isn’t enough for Jade and she moves her attentions to more lustful desires, in particular the Ferris Wheel operator, Blackie Fleming (Lee Raymond), who is more than happy to indulge in the affair.
The carny code leads to one of the performers, Shorty (Felix Silla, Cousin Itt from The Addams Family, The Brood) informing Steve of their duplicity and Steve stabs Blackie to death when they confront each other. With Steve sent to prison, Jade is left to ponder what to do with all his money whilst entertaining herself by being horrible to the carnival residents but once again, the carny code leaves the sideshow folk with one last performance to give in honour of their jailed boss.
Once you have completely cleared your mind of the existence of 1932’s Freaks, you can begin to appreciate She Freak for the enjoyable schlock it is. David F. Friedman’s somewhat unique style and approach did not sit well with the director, Mabe and he was replaced before filming was completed, inevitably by Friedman himself, indeed you wonder why he felt it necessary to employ someone other than himself in the first place (he also appears as the Carnival Barker, an ideal piece of casting!).
It’s a badly-shot and badly-paced film, the lingering shots of of Sacramento’s State Fair are fascinating (even the children seem to be smoking) but belong in a documentary, not dragging the pace of the film down to a crawl.
The pleasingly filthy sixties go-go music, which often appears when you least expect it, is the work of Friedman’s go-to tunesmith, William Castleman, also notable for his scores to The Big Bird Cage (1972) and The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974), also directing the entertaining, Johnny Firecloud. It’s difficult to warm to Jade as a lead character, her innocent intentions flipping to devious throughout the film, it’s impossible to fully sympathise or hate her.
Those expecting a parade of deformed individuals will be disappointed; an appearance by the 3’11” Silla is always a treat (interestingly, he went on to start a 9-year affair with Brennan, which both hid from the world’s eyes, despite them having a child) and some actual 60’s burlesque work is pleasing to see. The film taunts you with an ending you’re already expecting and then still fails to deliver, an impossible and ridiculous spectacle your only reward.
Daft dialogue, garish colours, ropey yet enjoyable performances, and a glimpse at yesteryear, the enjoyable aspects of the film are largely accidental – such are the joys of exploitation films.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
“I can easily sit through slow films. Many slowly moving features in the past have actually turned out fine, and in some cases, terrific. Here, it’s not so much the case that She Freak is tardy, but just boring.” Oh, the Horror!
” …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).” The Bloody Pit of Horror