Freak Out (2004)

What do you get for the horror movie geek who has everything? Well, his very own pet psychopath, for one thing.

Merv Doody is the embodiment of the term “horror movie geek”. The staff members of his local video shop know him by sight, and have a vast collection of awful horror sequels ordered in ready for him at any given moment. His room is plastered with posters for classic horror movies; DVDs are littered everywhere, and more than one serial killer mask adorns his walls. When an escaped mental patient turns up in, well, not to put too fine a point on it, his shower, it’s as though all Merv’s Christmases have come at once: the effeminate, vegetarian Looney is the perfect fixer-upper.

With help from his best friend (and slightly annoying sidekick) Onkey, Merv educates Looney in the basics of killing unsuspecting teenagers in cold blood before unleashing him on the world. Unfortunately, it’s not until that point that Merv realises what he’s done, and now it’s up to him to stop the spatula-wielding, Dallas-obsessed weirdo in order to clear his own name and save the day.

Although it contains quite a few traditional horror movie elements, Freak Out is, first and foremost, a comedy. And a pretty darned funny one, at that. It takes a while to get past the fact that everything really feels like it ought to be set in America – having a town sheriff doesn’t exactly help on that count – but as Shaun of the Dead proved, British horror comedies can be pretty damned awesome. Freak Out’s humour ranges from flat-out slapstick to subtle satire, and it’s absolutely filled with the sort of knowing nods and winks that only genre fans will really get, though without ever neglecting their more mainstream audience. Occasionally, it becomes straight up surreal – the Blair Witch Project play, for example, is pretty trippy, and there are more montages in this movie than should be physically possible. But Freak Out never gets too carried away with its injokes that the audience feels excluded; quite the opposite, in fact. In spite of their flaws (and the occasionally less-than-brilliant acting) the main characters are, by the end of the movie, bizarrely endearing; there’s a studenty feel to the whole production that makes it all feel comfortable and welcoming – though it should probably come with a warning that getting too comfy will probably result in inappropriate touching.

The DVD’s special features are particularly deserving of mention because there are just so many of them – commentaries on the movie disc, and a whole second disc full of extras chronicling the rather spectacular 4-year production of the movie, as well as in-character documentaries and oodles of deleted scenes. The documentary Bumfeeling 101 is the standout feature, though you’ll have had to have seen the film to understand the brilliance of that. The soundtrack, too, is of a remarkably high standard considering Freak Out is an independent movie made for a grand total of approximately £30,000 (or, to borrow a joke from the commentary, “about a million dollars.”) The scoring is never obtrusive, while the songs, mostly from unsigned bands, are incredibly catchy.

In all honesty, Freak Out is better, on all counts, than it has any right to be. Shot on film, it has a professional look that, despite the lack of tripod use, is far more cinematic than could have been expected; there’s an enormous amount of ideas bouncing around, almost all of which work; and the jokes, silly though they almost always are, are downright hilarious. The film has so much spirit that it’s contagious; it’s all but impossible not to warm to Freak Out.

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