My jaw dropped more than a couple of times during Lucky Cerruti’s Freak (2020), a shocking, teens-for-fodder horror film. Cerruti and team produced one of the best-looking and actually scary monsters that I have seen in quite a while, even the sound design for the monster’s roar is pitch-perfect and rightly intimidating. Cerruti does not hold back on horror — it is not quite a bloodbath, but the very graphic and gory kills, most of which come out of nowhere, were the most impressive parts of this camping-in-the-woods, urban legend horror flick. From Dead Vision Productions, producers of Kindness of Strangers (2019), their new horror movie, Freak, is on sale beginning October 12th.
Born into a religious community, a horribly deformed baby and his family are forced into the surrounding forest as outcasts. Years later, reports of campers’ food, and eventually, many campers themselves go missing in that very same forest, birthing an urban legend that not many know about. When 5 friends decide to go camping and learn of the legend, they choose to continue with their journey anyway, looking forward to a weekend of hanging out in the picturesque woods, and having been reassured by the campground manager, Mr. Crenshaw (Kent Streed). After only a couple of days of camping, the friends encounter the legendary monstrosity for themselves and go to pieces over their partying being interrupted (and because of the monsters’ gruesome habits).
At times, the monster looked as though it was done in claymation, and the natural jerky movements produced by that animation medium made viewing this creature an unnerving experience. The fact that it is a human who is mutated to near non-recognition produced that uncanny valley feeling, especially without the use of CGI, and leaning into smart choices such as giving it piercing eyes and drooling grimace. Practical effects and very dim lighting were used, making the experience of the film all the more real, almost palpable, and the forest setting more menacing. The effects were topped off by an excellent horror soundtrack, the style of which reminded me of the teen slasher films of the 80s, using the low-pitched percussive piano for the building of anticipation and high-pitched strings for the strike.
The film quality looks to be shot-on-video, however, the attention to detail in the framing and cinematography helped the Freak team overcome what should be limitations to their production. Not to mention the screenplay itself — somewhat short, clocking in at only about 45-minutes, but that hour packs quite a punch, a knuckle sandwich of jaw-dropping gore, a monster with a heartbreaking origins story, and a bitterly (and bloody) sweet final scene. Cerruti is lucky to have snagged actor Kent Streed, who, as campground manager Mr. Crenshaw, delivered a memorable monologue that brought a layer of humanity to the horribly mutated monster, injecting some heartfelt melodrama into this otherwise monster/slasher movie. Watch this movie until the very last second, for the final farewell in the after-credits.
The only real gripe about Freak is that it has all been done before. The characters, though well-performed, were stock teen characters, the only adult character’s intentions could be seen coming from a mile away despite Streed’s fine acting, and the setting and the premise are both well overdone in cinema. However, at least Cerruti is able to show that he is a confident writer in the horror genre and that he is a competent director able to do the basics fairly well. Freak was truly a pleasant surprise, and I ended up loving the experience of this film as a fun, into-the-woods teen-horror movie that felt like a throwback to slasher films from the bronze age of horror movies.
Available from Deadvision Productions.
MOVIE RATING — 7 out of 10