Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Mutations (1974)

          Reflecting its storyline about a mad scientist who gene-splices people and plants to create monsters, this lurid UK flick offers two movies for the price of one. The putative main story is an unintentionally hilarious stinker, with Donald Pleasence phoning in his bad-guy performance while the film’s special-effects team delivers laughably bad monster costumes. However, a major subplot about the mad scientist’s deformed henchman has a certain degree of pathos and suspense, especially because the subplot borrows many elements from the 1932 cult classic Freaks. Set in modern-day England, The Mutations stars Pleasence as Professor Nolter, a psycho who envisions a new race of humans imbued with plant characteristics. Nolter’s accomplice is Lynch (Tom Baker), a deformed giant who abducts young men and women for Nolter to use as test subjects. Lynch is the leader of a group of circus freaks living at an amusement park, yet while the other circus performers are harmless, Lynch is a self-loathing psychotic. Thus, while Nolter tempts fate by taking his experiments too far, Lynch is driven to madness by waiting for Nolter to deliver on promises of correcting Lynch’s deformity. (The picture also features perfunctory material involving attractive students either investigating the disappearances of their classmates or becoming victims of Nolter’s weird science.)
          As helmed by Jack Cardiff, a master cinematographer who occasionally directed, The Mutations has a colorful look and one or two genuinely creepy scenes, notably the Freaks-influenced conclusion of Lynch’s storyline. The acting is generally bland, but Baker (beloved by many for his long run on the UK TV series Doctor Who) does well playing Lynch in the Vincent Price mode of a killer besieged by inner demons. The film’s other noteworthy performance comes from the diminutive Michael Dunn, familiar to American TV fans for his work as Dr. Loveless on the ’60s show The Wild Wild West. He plays the little person who represents the conscience of the circus-freak community. Furthermore, starlets including the scrumptious Julie Ege provide major eye candy while clothed and otherwise, and The Mutations benefits from an eerie music score that utilizes dissonant classical music—a truly unsettling flourish. FYI, The Mutations sometimes carries the alternate title The Freakmaker.

The Mutations: FUNKY


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you mentioned Michael Dunn. He apparently had a very high I.Q. and the first dwarf actor to be nominated for the Academy Award in 1965 for 'Ship of Fools'. This was his last movie he died during filming. Always found 'Wild Wild West' to be a very unique one-of-a-kind series. Did you ever see it?

Jamal said...

Got this set for dvr on tcm in a bit. Tell ya my thoughts when I get to it.