A pre-credits sequence introduces us to a deaf and mute child (Jarod Parker), victimised by pregnant mother, Mavis Keller(Linda Smith-McCormick), who sees him as a deformed wretch who can do no right. Mavis forces him to wear a crude mask to hide his features from the outside world, (though we are unsure whether the boy is deformed or whether his mother merely thinks him abominable), and whose punishments include binding him in chains. One night whilst feeding her son, Mavis is overcome with labour pains, and retires to her bedroom to give birth, in the process she forgets to lock her son up. As soon as the baby is born, Mavis disposes of it in an oil drum outside and returns to the house where her son bashes her skull in with a rock.
Local residents are alarmed to see the shabbily dressed, masked child wandering around town and alert the authorities that later discover the disturbed boy caring for his baby sister. Unable to remove the mask or adjust to the outside world he is placed in the care of a mental institution, and his sister put up for adoption.
Nine years later and orderly on parole Jason (Travis Patton) is escorting Keller to another institution, but a series of security lapses allow the patient to escape. Jason decides that his parole will be affected by his haphazard management and decides not to alert the authorities of his error. Armed with a pistol, he sets off to recapture Keller on his own, unaware that the patient is actually a killer.
A masked Keller makes his way back to his hometown, in Valhalla Mills, Ohio, to find his younger sister, due to the cruelty he received as a youngster and the confinement he later suffered, he views adults as evil beings who harm children, and kills anyone that stands in his way.
Meanwhile Staci Parker (Amy Paliganoff) and her 9 year old adoptive sister Jodi (Andrea Johnson) are moving home and cross the path of the escaped killer. Keller kidnaps the child, and takes her back to the old Keller house. With Staci and Jason in pursuit, the scene is set for a final confrontation.
Eschewing the familiar clichés of the usual psycho-on-the-loose fare, FREAK is an intelligent attempt at revitalising the horror genre. The characters are especially well developed and credit goes to director Tyler Tharpe for eliciting excellent performances from both Paliganoff and Patton who bring emotional depth to their roles, revealing subtle clues from their past that enable us to understand why they do the things they do. The story is a little contrived in places; I find it hard to believe that all the characters cross paths at the times they do; or that a woman petrified of ferrets can find the courage to confront a masked lunatic, but hey, synchronicity does occur in real life, and I guess it’s not my own step-sister... The cinematography is great and accompanied by a low-key soundtrack provided by John C. Hermes that effectively conveys the rural menace of the Midwest states, with their lonely farmsteads, barren winters, willowy woodland and beaten dirt tracks that lie miles from the major towns. This combination help build a steady, but suspenseful horror yarn without relying on gratuitous gore for a pay-off.
Recently released on DVD by Shock-O-Rama with the accompanying short HEADCHEESE (see review below) this fine effort bodes well for the director’s follow-up feature FLICK 2, which is in production now.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Tyler Tharpe
USA / 1998 / 83 minutes.
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Shock-O-Rama DVD Release
All region. NTSC. Mono.