Horror Comedy Low-Budget
Trivia Desmond Cullum-Jones (Old Man Wilson) died shortly after filming his role.
Freak Out is the first feature-length movie to film inside Broadcasting House, home of BBC Radio.
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Freak Out (2004)
31st May 06
A horror movie addict's (Merv) dream comes true when a hapless escaped mental patient stumbles onto his doorstep. Seeing an opportunity, Merv and his best pal (Onkey) set about turning the naive unbalanced individual into a 'textbook' horror movie serial killer.
Taking their inspiration from the guerilla makers of Evil Dead, Clerks and El Mariachi, the crew behind Freak Out put this flick together on 16mm for a total budget of £30,000 in just under five years. Alarm bells often ring when you hear about ‘another low-budget horror comedy’, but thankfully Freak Out turns out to be an absolute joy from start to finish and is probably the best ‘low-budget horror-comedy’ since, well… since Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste.
The film opens with a black and white flashback to our comic killer as a young boy, as he is dropped off at school by his alcoholic mum. Disliked by all (the students all call him a bum-feeler - even the teacher joins in) Cliff runs away, vowing to return 13 years later to wreak revenge. After a swift cut to the present (now in colour), Cliff returns as an escaped mental patient and approaches a wasteland where the school used to be, thus thwarting his long gestating plans. "Oh, Shit" he says.
With the tone set (fast-paced humour with plenty of film-geek nods and nifty editing) we next meet main hero Merv Doody (James Heathcote) as he drops in to his local video store to rent his latest selection of horror films. The girl behind the counter, Abby (a great performance by Nicola Connell) gives Merv his birthday present (“as is the custom on this planet”), but Merv spurns her advances to help two young kids choose their horror film in what must surely be the best video store scene (and that includes the Happy Scrappy Hero Pup scene in Clerks!)… EVER MADE!
Resting back at home in his bed-sit strewn with film posters and horror memorabilia, Merv encounters the camp vegetarian serial killer in his bathroom, and when the killer greets him with a cheery “Hello!”, Merv decides to train him. To a musical montage of 'She’s a Maniac' Merv and the Killer try on several costumes (Eminem, Jason with a surfboard) and attempt to decide on a name (Dangerous Bryan, Keith, The Lion King are all rejected) all in an effort to build up to their first ‘real’ victim.
Jokes fly in thick and fast at a pace of about two or three a minute in this film and most of them stick. Of course, it helps to have a working knowledge of the horror genre, but even if you don’t know your VOOR-HEES from your KRUE-GER’s there’s plenty of sarcasm, slapstick and general good fun to be had.
The film really picks up the pace with the arrival of Merv’s friend, Onkey (played by co-writer and producer, Dan Palmer). Dan’s performance is spot-on hilarious as Merv’s partner in crime - an ammoral lecher who works in a Bowling Alley ("Hello my lovely. Beauty Queens get in free today") and the two form a fetching friendship that sits up there with the Bill and Ted’s, the Wayne and Garth’s and the Jay and Silent Bob’s of this world.
Onkey (after a particularly hilarous slapstick routine) then decides to help Merv in his quest to train the killer, and the pair try to set him up with his first victims. They submit him for a Mental Health Check (which he fails much to everyone’s delight and high-fives), they secure a chainsaw (ACME of course) and send the killer into the woods to murder a couple (who are breaking both Hollywood horror movie rules by smoking drugs and having sex) whilst discussing the marketing potential by making little speaking dolls of the Killer (“just tug on it… I’m hoping to aim it at little boys”). Of course, from here on in things are bound to start going wrong.
Things get slightly sidetracked (as Merv gets a job at a supermarket and the Killer and Onkey go for a drink at The Furry Cup which isn’t quite as funny as it sounds) but it is not long before the film hits it’s stride again with a glorious full-blown superstore massacre as the Killer finally finds his groove and dispatches shoppers and co-workers alike.
Merv and Onkey begin to have second thoughts, but the Killer now has other ideas, and with his mask now transformed to ‘Evil Killer’ he wreaks havoc at a party and proceeds to go on a rampage. Can Merv and Onkey stop what they have started? Will Merv ever manage to get it on with Abby the Video shop girl – who has also now become a zombie? Will Onkey ever get laid? Will anyone survive? Will we get to see a cameo by Larry Hagman?
Freak Out is great for many reasons. Firstly it is a film that has obviously been crafted by movie-lovers, and there is a great attention to detail. The film is crammed with ideas, both visual and verbal, and for such a bubble-gum movie, the characters are all well performed and they all have our sympathy. Special mention must go to James Heathcote (Merv), Nicola Connell (Abby) and Yazz Fetto (the Sheriff), but it is Dan Palmer as Onkey that steals the movie with a terrifically hyperactive display of humorous acting.
Great joy is to be had from spotting all the film references in Freak Out too. From the posters on Merv’s wall to the ‘Empire’ T-shirt worn by the kid in the video store, the film is stuffed with references and homages to movie (horror in particular) culture. Oh look, zombies from Night of the Living Dead! The monster from Evil Dead!! That shot from Halloween!!!
In fact this film is just so much fun, it’s really no surprise to find out that Dan Palmer (producer / writer / actor) and Christian James (producer / writer / director) were in the year below Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) at film school, and helped out on Edgar’s first low-budget film attempt A Fistful of Fingers (a spoof Western made in Somerset in 1994). Freak Out is very similar to the Edgar Wright school of filmmaking; feature lots and lots of jokes, make it look as good as it can possibly be, have some great acting support, but mostly keep the film fun, fast-paced and enjoyable. Admittedly there are a couple of pacing problems, and the tone of the film sometimes shifts too far left-of-centre, but when you’re taking five years to make a film, there are bound to be moments that don’t quite fully fit in.
Thankfully Freak Out has so much originality and humour that you can forget about the low production values. Who needs fantastic lighting when you’ve got a script as illuminating as the dialogue presented here ("I really want to get a hand on your Ghoulies!" and “I am the Blair Witch Proj… er.. the Blair Witch!” being just two examples).
Freak Out is surely destined to be a big cult favourite, and if Fistful of Fingers can launch the careers of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (through Shaun of the Dead), then it’s looking like Christian James and Dan Palmer are already staking their claim on inheriting their roles. Which can only be a good thing for independent British cinema.
Extras The double-disc DVD edition of Freak Out is crammed full of hilarious extras, the highlight of which simply has to be the thoroughly engaging (and, if you're making low-budget films yourself, fascinatingly educational) 'Making of' which lasts for over 50 minutes.
Charting the progress of the film's production from its first shooting dates in early 2000 to the film's appearance at FanTasia in 2004, the Making of documentary (called Making Out) is top-notch fun detailing all hassles of low-budget making, whether it be the difficulty of obtaining cheesy Wwotsits on a lunch run, to the repeated failure to fire a shotgun on camera ("Bugger! Bugger!! Bugger!!!") Nice canned laughter, and pop-up windows of the cast and crew too.
There are also 16 deleted scenes, ranging from Later Nob-cheese to No Sax please, you're Onkey, and although some of these are not great, you do get the feeling that some of these scenes really should have been included in the final cut.
We also have a 5-minute Film School (that actually lasts only 4 minutes - hey, where's the other minute!) which simply shows James Heathcote being turned into a zombie using low-budget make-up effects. Brilliant - we love zombies here at eatmybrains.com
The 11 minute Geek-Out is slightly disappointing as it features three Internet critics (from arrowinthehead.com, bloody-disgusting.com and allthingszombie.com) chatting over three separate film clips. Boring, drony and not adding much, we here at eatmybrains.com really wish we had now got our act together and recorded our own commentary track when we were asked to by the film's producers last year. That'll teach us to be lazy slackers here at EMB towers.
Rounding off the extras are two great Commentaries, an amusing 6 minute short entitled Bum-feeling 101 in which Onkey (as Onkey Analrape) illustrates his bum-feeling techniques, and the music video for Zaniac featuring brand-new footage shot specially for the DVD.
All in all, the extras on this double-disc are great value, and almost as good as the film itself.
So, with a brilliantly funny film and heaps of hilarious extras, the double-disc DVD edition of Freak Out proves to be exceptional value for money, and if you're a fan of horror comedies, you should be ashamed of yourself if your DVD shelf does not contain this DVD. Seriously, buy it Now! This instant - you won't regret it.
(Disclaimer: this positive review has nothing to do with the fact that www.eatmybrains.com recieved our first on-screen credit with a Special thanks mention in the closing credits. Nice one boys - now go make another film and credit us again, or even better, give us a cameo!)