Pros: Interesting look at the carny life of yesteryear; many enjoyably campy elements
Cons: Somewhat dull and tame, especially when compared to some "roughies" from around the same time
Taking an obvious inspiration from Tod Browning's 1932 classic Freaks, the 1967 Dave Friedman-produced She Freak is another enjoyably trashy Friedman film, this one far and away less exploitative (in a way) than many of his other efforts. Known mainly for a string of cheap-o nudie films and early H.G. Lewis gore flicks, writer-producer Friedman seems to have reigned in the sensationalism this time, turning in a film that's very campy and quite funny, but less reliant on shock value and nudity.
Byron Mabe (who would be at the helm numerous times in the '60s for Friedman) directs this film that focuses on a country girl, Jade Cochran, fed up with her job at a rundown gas station/diner. After hearing word of a traveling carnival making a stop locally, Jade talks to the carnival's manager and takes a job waiting tables there. Befriended by a variety of the workers, Jade starts to feel at home, but is more interested in shacking up with one (or more) of the various bachelors she finds, becoming especially enamored with Blackie, the shady tough guy who works the ferris wheel, and Steve St. John, who makes a good living running the freak show. After hooking up and tying the knot with Steve, things seemed to have finally worked out for Jade, but the jealous Blackie offers something that her new husband may not be able to...
Mabe's film is interesting in a number of ways, partially due to its portrayal of the carny circuit in the late 1960s. Despite a claim before the film runs that "situations such as this would not exist anymore," Friedman's script seems to accurately portray life in the traveling carnival, with large stretches of the film depicting the average day in the life of its workers. Scenes detailing the quick set-ups of the amusements and everyday running of the attractions, food prep on the midway trailers, and also the extensive process of tearing everything down are perhaps given almost as much screen time as the ongoing story of Jade's existence there. That large portions of the film were produced without live sound (a practice that seems to be prevalent in no-budget exploitation films of the time) also prompts the viewer to focus on the ins-and-outs of the carny lifestyle.
She Freak would probably provide the moviegoer with a hit-or-miss viewing experience. For the viewer unfamiliar with the bigger picture of trash cinema from years gone by, the film might largely be rather boring, since large portions of this film are rather dull and the story is pretty ho-hum for much of the film. By the time this was made in 1967, there were definitely films out there (films by the Findlay's come to mind as well as Friedman's own 1966 film A Touch of Honey, A Swallow of Brine) that were more extreme in terms of both violence and sexual content, making She Freak pale in comparison. While there's quite a bit of sexual content in this film that at the time was probably rather risque, the lack of nudity and overt sexuality coupled with the minimum of truly sensational violence that was featured in Friedman's film with horror genre legend Lewis might additionally bore some viewers accustomed to the more rough films of the period.
On the other hand, while the overall story about Jade's relationships towards the various men she meets is somewhat familiar, there's plenty of unusual details to the story that make the overall film more entertaining. She is repulsed by the freak show (which, as depicted in the film, is relatively harmless and perhaps unintentionally funny), particularly one dwarf who seems to be her husband's right hand man. This creates numerous dramatic highlights in the film as "Shorty" calls Jade out on her various marital transgressions. The subplot with Blackie is also rather amusing, as at one point, he gets in a scuffle with a particularly roughneck looking fellow over Jade's affections. The fight ends up with Blackie putting a screwdriver through his opponent's hand, in one of the more ludicrous moments in an already subtly whacko little film.
Additionally, the cast assembled for the film adds to the enjoyment factor, with Claire Brennan being particularly easy on the eyes in her role as Jade. Her transition from a likable, backwoods girl to a conniving, money-hungry schemer later in the film is fairly well-handled by Brennan, and the supporting cast of characters, including several people who would've been employed in the type of freak show depicted in the film, add appropriate colorizations. Lee Raymond as the womanizing Blackie hits just the right cocky attitude in his portrayal, with Bill McKinney being amiable and oblivious as his rival Steve. Claude Earl Jones makes the most of his limited role as the stain-covered diner owner, and Lynn Courtney is the appealing carny stripper who befriends Jade right off the bat. All in all, the cast seems to recognize the level of film we're dealing with here, so they provide roles that fit in with the camp feel of the film.
With a bizarro ending that is an appropriate (if ludicrous) climax to the story, She Freak is a fun piece of low-budget cinema from yesteryear. It doesn't have the sensationalism that many similar films had, but it makes the most of what it does have, and comes across as a humorous small-scale cult flick. With a DVD from Something Weird boasting an enjoyable commentary from producer/director Friedman and a decent transfer considering the film in question, She Freak might not be one of the best recommendably bad horror films out there, but it definitely would be worth a look for the audience interested in these types of movies.
Blood & Gore = A screwdriver through the hand and some not-so-freaky freaks
Language = It might be rough, but it's not really offensive
Fap Factor = Risque sex and some busty burlesque dancers, but overall, pretty tame