Movie: The Mutations (1974)

While watching 1973 UK horror film The Mutations, I couldn’t help but think of the theme to The Residents’s Freak Show album: “Everyone comes to the freak show/to laugh at the freaks and the geeks/Everyone comes to the freak show/but nobody laughs when they leave.”

There are real “freaks”, or people with various birth defects, in this movie.  I wasn’t very comfortable with this.  I didn’t feel they were presented as real people, unlike how such people were portrayed in Tod Browning’s legendary 1932 film.  Obviously, the people who made this movie have seen Browning’s, as the performers chant “ONE OF US!” when the manager refuses to join a birthday party they’re holding.

That manager is played by Tom Baker, widely regarded as the best Doctor Who.  It is so strange to see him here as a monstrous person, both in temperament and physically, by way of a horrible facial prosthetic.  By horrible, however, I mean the quality thereof and not that the resulting effect is terrifying.

And there are plenty of lousy rubber-suit monsters here, each one worse than the last, as a scientist played by Donald Pleasance tries to make a human/plant hybrid.  Why he wants to do this is beyond me.  I like to think he was inspired by Reese’s Peanut Cup commercials from the 70’s, and he and another scientist had a similar mix-up in the lab.  “You got your animal matter in my plant matter!”  “You got your plant matter in my animal matter!”

In trying to perfect whatever the hell he is trying to make, Pleasance puts the resulting figures in the sideshow as a new attraction.  He also teaches at a college where he widely regarded as a ”brilliant” professor (*cough*).  He keeps abducting his students to use them in his experiments…which would seem to make him the only common thread in those abductions.  Yep—he’s such a super-genius that he might as well phone the police and just tell them outright what he’s been up to.

Anyhoo, this geeenius (imagine it being said in a Wiley E. Coyote voice) spouts nothing but disturbing philosophies in his lectures.  I’m surprised he doesn’t start talk about cultivating a master race.  He does, however, wax rhapsodic about a potential glorious future through genetic engineering.  He even speculates about us eventually having the ability resurrect dead species.  Just think, this guy was about 20 years ahead of Jurassic Park!  Also, he has a machine that instantly turns a fresh orange rotten and then reverts it to its previous state, for who knows what reason.  I’m thinking automatic A for the semester for the student who eats that resuscitated orange!

I can’t believe an early 70s British movie starring Donald Pleasance and Tom Baker could be so terrible.  It doesn’t even look like anybody is having any fun.  Compounding my confusion as to how talented people could make something so awful is it is directed by Jack Cardiff (who, among other things, was cinematographer on Black Narcissus) and scored by Basil Kirchin (composer on I Start Counting and The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but who turns in largely unremarkable random honks and skronks here).

I actually thought this film looked promising from the opening credits.  There are some great font choices used over a fascinating montage of time lapse footage of plants growing.  One may think I am damning with faint praise by singling out the credits but, no, I actually love opening credit sequences and this one is quite good.  Unfortunately, there’s every minute of the movie after that.

The Residents said nobody laughs then they leave the freak show, but the best anybody could probably do at the end of The Mutations is laugh.  This is a terrible picture—a bad idea (assortment of ideas?), poor written and poorly executed.  Avoid.

Dir: Jack Cardiff

Starring Donald Pleasance, Tom Baker, Michael Dunn

Watched on Amazon Prime