Mutations, The (1974)

“He’ll soon be neither human nor plant, but with the characteristics and advantages of both: a plant that can move and think; a man who can set down roots.”

Mutations Poster

Synopsis:
A mad scientist (Donald Pleasence) obsessed with merging plant and human life forms has his facially deformed assistant (Tom Baker) kidnap university students (Olga Anthony and Scott Anthony) so he can perform genetic experiments on them; meanwhile, their friends (Julie Ege, Brad Harris, and Jill Haworth) try to find out why they’ve disappeared.

Genres:

Review:
Famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff directed over a dozen feature-length films during his illustrious career; this campy cult horror film was the last of them. It’s inspired in part by Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), given its cast of physically “abnormal” performers who are upset that their nominal leader (Baker) doesn’t consider himself “one of them” — in fact, the infamous “We accept you, one of us!” dinner party sequence from Freaks is directly replicated here. Unfortunately, the bulk of the movie is taken up with a rather nonsensical mad scientist plot, in which Pleasence — with completely noble goals, of course — turns his experimental “subjects” (conveniently, two of them are his own students) into laughably silly-looking plant-monsters. At least the picture looks good, with vibrantly colorful set designs; and the mid-film “freak show” is worth a look — I like how the actors (including a real-life “Alligator Lady”, “Bearded Lady”, “Frog Boy”, and “Human Pincushion”, as well as a man known as “Popeye” who can bug his eyes out at will) are treated with relative dignity, and each allowed to carefully explain their syndrome to the audience if they wish. These sympathetic characters should have been the central focus of the film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The undeniably fascinating carnival “freak show”
    Mutations Freak Show
  • Colorful set designs
    Mutations Set Designs

Must See?
No. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Mutations, The (1974)”

  1. A once-must, at least – as a unique cult item.

    FFs need only go to IMDb and read director Cardiff’s career-long credits as both director (big leaps from films like ‘Sons and Lovers’ to ‘Dark of the Sun’ and – yikes! – ‘The Girl on a Motorcycle’!) and DP (his splendid work with Powell/Pressburger, as well as ‘Pandora and the Flying Dutchman’ and Huston’s ‘The African Queen’, etc.) to see why this one is worth their while. Is it in the top tier of cult films? Not at all.

    But it’s interesting – and even entertaining and instructive – for a number of reasons.

    What will be most apparent is how Cardiff makes the absolute most of a rather pedestrian script (even tho, to be fair, the script does manage some surprises). He really set out to put this one over! And, overall, succeeds admirably. I mean, it really is nothing more than a mad/genius scientist flick. But one can’t help admiring what Cardiff brings to the film – particularly with the aid of photographic effects, art direction, ‘music’ elements, etc.

    In a way, it all ends up being…almost compelling.

    There is one major drawback: the four younger characters. Almost everything these characters say is…of…no…importance…or…interest…whatsoever.
    Rarely do you come across a small group in film that’s this dull.

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