Long before the traveling circuses were largely criticized by animal rights advocates and ignored by our modern technology-addicted youth who prefer to see exotic animals on various screens, there was an air of mystery that followed them wherever they went. While it is illegal (and admittedly tasteless) to put disabled people on display for dollars in today’s modern age of enlightenment, the traveling circus was once considered an outreach for outcasts of all sorts; a place that would accept anyone who wanted to join them and offer a fresh start. I think the old Barnum song said it best-
I’ve joined the circus like I wanted to, when I was a kid.
Climbed aboard before it moved on and you bet your life I’m glad I did.
Went to bed in Minneapolis, woke up in PA.
Packed my roll, my brush and my comb again,
Ready to roll again, ready to stray.
Bless my soul; I’ll never go home again,
When the circus comes my way.
While the traveling sideshows of decades past are few and far between, its three rings of mystique do make a great place to tell a story of the conflict between a troupe of physically challenged performers with hearts of gold and one beautiful diner waitress with ugly ambition that ultimately made her the star of the show, (though perhaps not in the way she was hoping for). SHE FREAK is the film of the day and while not a classic it does borrow from a well-known cult film (if not plagiarizes it openly), so let’s have a peek behind the big curtain, shall we?
Jade Cochran is a woman who works in a small town diner, but dreams of the finer things. Tired of the lifelong poverty and abject boredom she has known her entire life she serves pie to local passerby and dodges the sexual advances of “Greasy”, her boss. It is then that someone comes in to ask permission to hang permission to hand a flyer announcing the carnival that is coming to town. Much to the discontent of Greasy, Jade immediately quits, and joins the circus in the hopes of changing her life forever.
Ironically at first her change in occupation is less dramatic than she has probably hoped for as, when we next see her, she is working the exact same job she had in the diner, serving the roughnecks and performers during their lunch break. Still, Jade is very pretty girl in a world of unfortunate looking circus performers and brutal laborers, and it isn’t long before the entire camp is talking about her. Despite being a small town girl, Jade, herself, is not oblivious to her feminine wiles and powers of seduction. Showing at least as much moxie as any Marilyn Monroe character or of any of the social climbing women of comfort from SEX IN THE CITY, Jade befriends local exotic dancer Pat “Moon “ Mullins long enough to learn the identity of the most eligible bachelor in the entire camp; Steve St John, none other than the sole proprietor of the entire carnival, with whom Jade finds herself conveniently falling in love.
It might have had the Cinderella ending that moderate audiences all want to see except for the fact that Jade is a conceited, vile, and contemptible woman who routinely makes fun of the “freaks” as well as openly cheats on Steve St. John every chance she gets with “Blackie Fleming”; a mean, despicable, abusive man with a temper that often becomes violent, who owns a private trailer that often doubles as a hotel for his trysts with Jade. Needless to say these secret liaisons suddenly become exposed at the cost of a life. Jade copes the best way she can in the chaotic aftermath of the incident, and it seems she will be Queen of the carnival after all, if not extremely wealthy. Yet as the circus is a tightly knit, loving family unlike anything Jade has every experienced in her own sad, loveless childhood, she cannot begin to understand the repercussions of her evil actions as they become known to the other performers nor begin to suspect that these simple carnival folks are about to raise serious issue with the way she has treated them in the past. Yet being an inclusive sort, each and every one of these freaks will personally see to it that despite her evil past misdeeds, Jade will always have a special place in the show alongside them.
I liked this film better the first time I saw it, back when it was called FREAKS (1932) by director Todd Browning. But this version, despite being in color, is much lamer and tamer. For one thing, the original FREAKS used actual circus performers so the final scene was steeped in so much horrific creepiness that it was simply impossible to duplicate onscreen by creature prosthetics of the day (or several decades after). By contrast, the “performers” in SHE FREAK are all heavily done up with make-up and simple creature effect to simulate severe deformity, and it is done so poorly that it is hard to lose yourself in the dark justice of its equally righteous but unconvincing finale. I dare say, the plot has the exact feel of an episode from HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT only needlessly padded, taking way too long to get to the trademark “gotcha” ending that everyone sees coming. Jade Cochran is a very pretty woman, but the scenes of intimacy are symbolic and merely suggested as you might expect them to be in a virtually bloodless thriller from 1967.
I recommend you seek out the original FREAKS before you watch this, but for $2.99, there's certainly room for this fun little carnival of murder and intrigue in your cheezy movie collection.
Extras Include Intermission shorts, SHE FREAK theatrical trailer, as well as trailers from other Cheezy Flicks.