review for The Mutations on AllMovie

The Mutations (1974)
by Fred Beldin review

The Mutations (aka The Freakmaker) mixes mad-scientist boilerplate with secondhand ideas from Tod Browning's dark fable Freaks, coming nowhere near the disturbing tone of that infamous 1932 thriller but producing satisfying junk horror nonetheless. As the obsessed Dr. Nolter, Donald Pleasance is noncommittal, giving the bare minimum to what begins as a central role but gradually diminishes as the story progresses; still, it's fun to watch him feed live bunnies to enormous carnivorous plants, and his fake accent is amusing. Tom Baker (later to take a turn as Doctor Who) steals the film as the scientist's deformed henchman, a self-loathing acromegaly victim twisted by bitterness and loneliness who lashes out at his fellow freaks. He and dwarf sidekick Michael Dunn are the only real actors on hand in The Mutations; however, Baker's makeup job is unconvincing and thus distracting, particularly when compared to the genuine human oddities that director Jack Cardiff employs. These authentic sideshow performers (including a bearded lady, a human pincushion, and "the pretzel boy") are shown on-stage presenting their carnival acts and figure in a number of scenes directly inspired by (or stolen from) Freaks, including a "one of us" party and a menacing late-night army of spurned circus freaks at the conclusion. The horrible final fruit of the mad doctor's research is a fully ridiculous half-man/half-Venus flytrap creation that absolutely crushes any chance of The Mutations being taken seriously. The time-lapse photography of budding plants used in the opening credits is eerier by far than the wretched rubber costume forced on poor Scott Antony. The Mutations was the decidedly silly finale to Cardiff's directorial career (which included the acclaimed Sons and Lovers and the only movie to be filmed in "Smell-o-Vision," Scent of Mystery), but he continued to ply his trade as an in-demand cinematographer, earning an honorary Academy Award in 2001 for his achievements in true classics such as The Red Shoes and The African Queen.