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Freaked

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Movie A-
Special Features: A-
DVD Geek Factor: 8.5 (out of 10)

I remember picking up a magazine called Film Threat back in 1993 and reading about a movie that Alex Winter, Bill to Keanu Reeves' Ted, was working on. At the time, it was called Hideous Mutant Freakz, and Winter had originally intended for his film to star the Butthole Surfers as mutant monsters who terrorize a vacationing family.

That $200,000 idea eventually morphed into a $12 million dollar movie, and a pretty funny one at that. Twentieth Century Fox greenlighted Winter's script and commissioned him to direct it (along with co-screenwriter Tom Stern), as long as he cleaned up the language a bit and delivered a PG-13 movie. The resulting product was PG-13, but so weird that the studio didn't know what to do with it. To the shelf it went.

The movie found life on cable television and VHS, and it finally comes to DVD after a long wait. Simply said, this is one of the better cult films out there, a strange curio of a movie that reveals true talent and original vision on behalf of Winter and Stern, who virtually disappeared after the experience of filming it. They've worked a bit here and there, but they never got the careers they deserved.

Winter plays spoiled movie star Ricky Coogan, hired by a corporation to be the spokesperson for a toxic fertilizer. An accidental road-trip detour lands him on the premises of one Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid) who subsequently turns him into a gargoyle-like creature and adds him to his freakshow as the Beast Boy.

The freaks include Mr. T. in a dress, Bobcat Goldthwait as a sock and Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy. For a relatively low-budget flick, the makeup (especially Winter's) is superb, and the set pieces are top-notch. Winter and Stern surely displayed an ability to make a dollar go a long way, for which they were rewarded with the studio's refusal to release the picture.

Special Features: If you watched a lot of late night cable TV in the mid-'80s, you may've caught a glimpse of Winter and Stern's bizarre college film, Squeal of Death. The short, about a criminal wannabe who gets the chair for stealing pens from a bank, is psychotic moviemaking at its most psycho, and it makes it onto this fun two-disc edition. Extensive behind-the-scenes documentaries, a funny commentary by Winter and Stern, and some deleted scenes are a nice bonus. The most unusual feature would be seeing the entire film in rehearsal form, with cast members doing a read through of the entire script.


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004

Paramount Home Video
Show A
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor: 7 (out of 10)

Screw network news! The best coverage of our last presidential election was offered by Jon Stewart and his crack correspondents on The Daily Show. This three-disc set offers their four-day coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions, and if you failed to record these great moments, here's your chance to forever possess them. Stewart was in fine form every night, not allowing his own views to get in the way of bashing both sides of the political coin.

Special Features: A third disc provides a collection of 2004 election segments from the show, including Election Night '04: Prelude to a Recount.


Prozac Nation

Miramax
Movie D+
Special Features D-
DVD Geek Factor 2 (out of 10)

Based on Elizabeth Wurtzel's autobiographical best-selling novel, this film is all over the place. Christina Ricci plays Wurtzel, a Harvard student with a gift for writing that catches the eye of Rolling Stone magazine. It follows her downward spiral into depression, and features a one-minute coda that has Wurtzel basically saying "Well, I'm all better now ... thanks to Prozac." This one feels real weird.

Shortly after arriving at college, Lizzie starts taking drugs, drinking and having sex. She then starts feeling bad about herself, bogged down with parental issues. The film spends plenty of time examining the relationship between Wurtzel and her mother (Jessica Lange, in rare bad form), establishing her tumultuous relationship with her as a main reason for the oncoming depression.

The drug mentioned in the movie's title doesn't make it into the film until the last 20 minutes, and once Wurtzel starts ingesting the pills, the film loses all sense of focus--ironic, considering the drug is supposed to help its patients gain focus.

In the end, the film doesn't know whether it's a commercial for the positive healing effects of Prozac, or a condemnation of a medical community writing 300 million prescriptions per year for antidepressants. This is a true example of a film being shot down by its final act. The first 75 minutes aren't great, but they are spectacular compared with the sloppy final 20.

This one was completed in 2001, but Miramax shelved it and never gave the movie a true release.

Special Features: One disc contains a short special that ran on the Sundance Channel. Not surprisingly, there's no Wurtzel commentary (she's on record as disliking the movie).

More by Bob Grimm

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