Monday, February 22, 2010

The Mutations (Great Britain, 1973)

(Spoilers.) Don't know what part of the Getty Family had their hand in producing this grotesque monstrosity, but it surely wasn't the Gettys responsible for all the high culture museums in Los Angeles. This film is probably one that everyone involved – at least those who still have a career – wishes to forget. The Mutations, also commonly found on the lowest shelf of secondhand video stores as Freakmaker, is a film with truly no redeeming social values and little if any true horror, but with a perverse fascination that will keep true lovers of the disgusting and idiotic (like me) glued to their television.
The Mutations seems to be the last film that the much awarded cinematographer Jack Cardiff ever directed. If it destroyed his directorial career, it did little damage to his career as cameraman, for the man who previously shot such acknowledged highbrow masterpieces as Black Narcissus (1947 / trailer) and The African Queen (1951 / trailer) went on after The Mutations to do the cinematography for such popular hits as Death on the Nile (1978), Conan The Destroyer (1984 / trailer) and Rambo II (1985 / trailer).
The actual story development of the movie is so short that the scriptwriters, "Edward Mann" and Robert D. Weinbach have to include a lot of filler to bring the film up to normal length. ("Edward Mann" is the pseudonym for sleaze merchant Santos Alcocer, who also wrote Oliver Stone's "forgotten" horror film Seizure [1974 / trailer].) Mostly, they use Donald Pleasence a lot to fill time with long, rambling speeches, but they also include a very long pre-credit sequence, an out-of-place visit to a prostitute and a long, depressing interval at a freak show in which real freaks show their stuff, including a lengthy interlude of the legendary sideshow performer Willie "Pop Eye" Ingram, whose nickname explains his specialty. One whole subplot in The Mutations is stolen directly from Tod Browning's legendary Freaks (1932), complete with a party at which the group of freaks start chanting "You're one of us – we accept you," the big difference being that instead of chanting to some murderously inclined, cold-blooded Russian beauty queen named Olga, they chant to a Rondo Hatton wannabe (played by Tom "Dr. Who" Baker) who they eventually knife to death instead of converting into a human chicken.
The Mutations is true exploitation grind-house trash. But then, what else can a film be when the best actor in the whole movie is beautiful former Miss Norway, Penthouse Pet and failed scream queen Julie Ege. (Two years later and she was more or less out of the business and back in Norway, where she eventually became a nurse and, in the interim, has died of breast cancer.) The part of the muscle-bound American Dr Brian Redford, the film's nominal hero, is also amazingly unnecessary, and was probably scripted in primarily to pad time with an airport scene and to supply a part for associate producer Brad Harris. (Harris, an Idaho-born muscle man who began his career in such sandal films as The Fury of Hercules (1961) is still occasionally active in Euro-trash films of today. Also known as "John Braun," in regards to sleaze cinema he reached his highpoint in modern exploitation in 1977 with parts in the lesbian-tinged Lady Dracula and the ultra-exploitive SS Hell Camp / Beast in Heat [trailer].)
The Mutations opens with Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence), a biochemist, giving a beady-eyed lecture about mutations and cloning to a class of bored students at some unnamed English college, and in no time flat the busty redheaded student is being chased through a foggy park by a bunch of threatening midgets. Lynch (Tom Baker) delivers her to Nolter who, between feeding bunnies to meat-eating plants and cultivating trees that bleed, is trying to cross plants with people. (We learn later that he is doing because he wants to "feed the world" by developing animals that live from photosynthesis, which logically explains why he creates so many plants that eat meat to survive.) Lynch, playing Igor to Nolter's Frankenstein eventually kidnaps another student, Tony (Scott Anthony), but he escapes after being mutated, eating a homeless man along the way. The next student to get kidnapped and strapped down naked on Nolter's operation table is the curvaceous Hede (Julie Ege), but just as the good doc begins his experiments Brian shows up, all the freaks enter the scene throwing switchblades, and Tony the Plant Monster drops through the skylight....
Really good stuff, as you can well imagine.

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