Welcome to Dillford, Home of the Riblet. Dillford is not your normal, everyday town. As a matter of fact, it’s about as abnormal as a town can get. Humans live side by side with vampires and zombies, all in relative peace. They work at the riblet plant, they go to the high school, they check out your groceries. Bottled blood is available at every corner store and brains come in easy to open cans. Everything is hunky-dory… That is, until the aliens show up.
Freaks of Nature is a horror comedy that wears its love for movies on its sleeve in much the same way 2006’s Slither did. Still not convinced? Check out this cast list: Patton Oswalt, Denis Leary, Keegan-Michael Key, Rachel Harris, Bob Odenkirk, Vanessa Hudgins and Joan Cusack, along with “teen” stars Nicholas Braun (Red State 2011), Mackenzie Davis (The Martian 2015) and Josh Fadem (Better Call Saul TV series). If combining these guys with a hilarious script by 22 Jump Street’s Oren Uziel and special effects by The Faculty’s (1998) Joe McLeod doesn’t excite you, then you are a sad, jaded person, my friend. Directed by relative newcomer Robbie Pickering, Freaks of Nature was produced by The Amazing Spider-Man’s (2012) Matthew Tolmach and with an outstanding soundtrack and music composed by Shameless’s Fil Eisler.
Previously titled The Kitchen Sink, Freaks of Nature is full of nods to other popular movies, both in seriousness and in jest. The house the teens hide in looks like the Night of the Living Dead (1968) farmhouse, the vampires go from looking like something out of Twilight (2008) to the black-eyed demons of 30 Days of Night (2007) and someone actually says, “Come with me if you want to live.” There’s a prolonged death that both loves on and makes fun of Captain Rhodes’s final scene, the vampires explode when staked like the ones in Daybreakers (2009), the sky is full of Independence Day (1996) spaceships and there are even a few Teen Wolf (1985) and American Werewolf in London (1981) shoutouts.
All this in the midst of teen angst, jealous girlfriends, teenage hormones and awkward friend reunions. Some kids want anything out of life that is not running the ammonia hose at the riblet factory and others want nothing more than to be turned into one of those hot, brooding vampires. Zombies, of course, just want their canned brains. But once the aliens show up, even they can be roused into a shambling horde to protect themselves. The vampires and humans only want to stop the each other from teaming up with the aliens first. With all of this infighting, who’s taking the time to find out what the aliens actually want?
The makeup in Freaks of Nature was really well done. The look of both the zombies and the vampires were on point. The pale blue veins in the vamp’s necks and black eyes were spot on with their inspirations. The zombies were disgusting but the makeup itself was minimal enough that the actors were able to really express their undead feelings and have fun, even with the slightly limited range of facial and vocal expressions. There wasn’t very much blood or gore, but the stuff they did show was fantastic. The alien effects, on the other hand, were pretty bad although possibly intentional, especially the 20-foot-tall glowing alien ambassador. With all of that buildup, I was expecting a bit more on the alien end, but all in all, the effects were really well done.
On the other hand, the editing was choppy and distracting. I was surprised to see Craig Alpert’s (Pineapple Express 2008) name, since he usually does a tight editing job. I just couldn’t get past the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them action shots and the seemingly random scenes that feel like the second half of something we never got to see. Although I didn’t mind, some may be irritated that the big name comedians in the film didn’t get bigger parts. The story centered on the three teens while the adults slipped in for a scene here and there and then disappeared for awhile. I do have to admit that I had hoped Patton Oswalt’s part had been bigger.
Filmed in 2013 but not released until October 30, 2015, Freaks of Nature was supposed to be Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, and although he was eventually replaced by Pickering, I would love to have seen what he would have done with this script. This movie knows its place, never taking itself seriously and is so full of nods and in-jokes from other movies that you’ll have a hard time keeping up with them. This was a fun ride with a great cast. I totally recommend it.