Wednesday, October 08, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 8 - Movie 2

In The Mutations (1974), Donald Pleasance plays a mad scientist intent on creating monstrous plants and human-plant hybrids using his college students to experiment on. He's aided by Tom Baker as a hideously deformed co-owner of a traveling carnival who is bringing Pleasance his victims and then hiding them, post-experiment, in his freak show. Baker is doing all of this because Pleasance has promised that in the end he'll be able to cure his deformities and make him normal looking.

I'd been wanting to see this movie since seeing photos of the venus flytrap man in the pages of Famous Monsters decades ago. As with so many film stills seen in Famous Monsters, the promise of what the movies they represented held far outweighed what they actually delivered. Directed by award winning cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, this movie is a slow moving exercise in stretching out a very thin premise into a narrative in which nothing is really happening for most of the movie. On the monstrous front, Pleasance's plant creations are nice and weird in all their rubber glory, and Baker's make-up is well done. The result of the first human-plant hybrid that we see looks like a bad fish mask, and the venus fly trap man doesn't look too bad when we a re first introduced to him, but looks like a Power Rangers monster on the next view when he's in full on plantman mode. The cast of students are forgettably indistinguishable from one another. For the freaks, real genetically handicapped individuals are brought in. There's an effort to make them seen as real, individual people, which is successfully done, but there are more than one scene directly borrowed from Tod Browning's Freaks (1932). Baker's partner in the carnival, and reluctant partner in crime is played by Michael Dunn, and accomplished actor and little person, who gives a fine performance here. Also padding out the movie is a lot of time lapse photography of plants growing, and for the first few minutes, before even the credits begin, you would be forgiven if you thought you had put on a nature documentary by mistake. The Mutations is a really poor movie, punctuated by periodic moments that will captivate you enough to keep going with it, but once it's over, you'll never want to watch it again.

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