The Mutations (1972)
Surfing a fine line between Horror Hospital style out-and-out exploitation and arty aspirations, The Mutations is a strange kettle of plant monster-men indeed.
It starts off with a load of time-lapse photography of plants growing, which looks very nice but also strikes you as a bit, well, educational. Not good.
Then Donald Pleasance steps in front of the camera, and you brighten up. Then he starts spouting more vaguely educational nonsense about plants. Then you notice that pain in the arse woman Julie Ege is one of his students, and you think "hmmmm...."
Then one of his students is chased through a foggy London park by a bunch of dwarfs, and you think "aha!". Then she's captured by a heavily made-up (and pre Doctor Who) Tom Baker, and you think "bingo!".
But there's more to this one than buckets of blood, dwarf tossing and Tom Baker over-acting. Although these things do appear in this film. It's a cross between every mad doctor film you've ever seen, and Tod Browning's Freaks, yet without that film's subtlety and pathos.
Mad Tom, heavily disfigured, is in charge of a circus freakshow of (real life) dwarfs, bearded ladies, human caterpillars and a bloke who can make his eyes pop out of his head (I kid you not - that image is going to stay with me for the rest of my life). Just like in Freaks, his crew taunt him by telling him he's just like them... unlike the earlier film (where the "freaks" taunt a "normal" woman) he is. He just refuses to believe it. That's why he's kidnapping nubile young girls for the mad doctor to experiment on, hoping that some time in the future the Doc will cure his disfigurement. Of course, that doesn't feature very highly (or at all) in the Doctor's plans. He's trying to create a new race of super human plant hybrid thingummybobs, although quite why he's bothering is never really properly explained. For a laugh, probably.
The film papers over the gaping plot holes with some female nudity, a cool-looking monster and a bloke who can make his eyes pop out of his head. Plot holes like - why "hide" the Doc's failed experiments on full view to the public in a nearby circus? Especially when the subject in question lived very nearby? And why does the Doc keep experimenting on people who are not only from the same circle of friends, but all part of his lecture group? And most importantly of all, why does the laboratory explode at the end? One minute it's not on fire, the next it is. You'd be forgiven for thinking that such films are obliged to end with a raging conflagration. Which, I suppose, they are. But it's still slightly galling when the place just erupts for no reason - someone could've at least knocked a bunsen burner over or something.
This gratuitous laboratory-burning is more than made up for by the death that follows it, though - as one of the main protagonists gets loads of knives thrown at him (aagh! ooh! urk! yaroo!) before being savaged by dogs (oof! ack! gerroff!). Ah, they don't kill 'em off like that any more.
Last updated: February 25, 2010
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