She Freak (1967) poster

She Freak (1967)


USA. 1967.


Director – Byron Mabe, Screenplay/Producer – David F. Friedman, Photography – Bill Troiano, Music – Billy Allen, Makeup – Harry Thomas. Production Company – Sonney-Friedman Pictures.


Claire Brennan (Jade Cochran), Lee Raymond (Blackie Fleming), Lynn Courtney (Pat ‘Moon’ Mullins), Bill McKinney (Steve St. John), Claude Earl Jones (Greasy), Ben Moore (Ben Thomas), Vanteen (Al Babcock), Felix Silla (Shorty), Bill Bagdad (Pretty Boy)


Jade Cochran works as a waitress in a roadside diner. When a man passes through placing up posters for a carnival, she asks about employment. She applies and is hired as waitress at one of the food concession stands. She is offered lodgings, sharing a motel room with stripper Pat ‘Moon’ Mullins. Jade liaises with Blackie, the Ferris Wheel operator, even though she is warned that he is trouble. Jade confides in Pat that she is looking to marry a man who has money. Jade then connects up with the carnival’s owner Steve St. John and the two marry in short course. However, Jade continues to liaise with Blackie and this ends in a fight during which Blackie stabs and kills Steve. The other carnies resent that this means that Jade inherits the entire carnival. After she begins firing those who annoy her, the carnies plot a horrible revenge.

David F. Friedman (1923-2011) was a producer who gained a name in exploitation film. Friedman began making early nudies and graduated to produce several of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s earliest splatter films – Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965). Friedman was prominent in the Nazisploitation genre, producing the first film of the genre Love Camp 7 (1969) and the notorious Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974), along with quite a body of porn films. Friedman can be spotted in the film here as a barker at a microphone calling people to come and see the freakshow. The film’s director Byron Mabe was mostly known as an actor but directed a number of other exploitation films.

The opening five minutes of She Freak conduct a tour of the carnival as the credits play. This takes us through the rides, the Ferris Wheels, the food concession stands, the cooch dancer, a sword swallower and a lady with a snake, before we get to the freakshow, although the film shies away from showing us anything of the freaks until the end. This is clearly a film that has been made with a love of the carnival and has actually been shot at a real life one. Friedman’s script knowingly throws about carny lingo. It is very much a tribute to what is now a lost era made before the carnival vanished.

The film adopts a wonderfully trashy and sordid tone (at least for what was permissible back in the day). When Claire Brennan announces her intention to join the circus, diner boss Claude Earl Jones taunts her: “You get out of here, you carnival tramp. I don’t want you giving my customers no diseases … You’re going down. All the way to Hell.” Later Lee Raymond gets into a fight with Bill Bagdad with the taunt: “You’ve got 32 teeth. Wanna try for sixteen?” And of course the whole plot is a about a woman who calculatingly getting married to a man for his money at the same time as she is drawn back into what is clearly implied as being a carnal relationship with another man.

Claire Brennan as the She Freak (1967)
Claire Brennan as the She Freak

The scenes where Claire Brennan is drawn into Lee Raymond’s trailer and he strips his shirt off are striking – all the more so for an era when sexuality was all but banished from screens. This is a film that almost cries out for screen nudity – between the scenes of Claire Brennan with Lee Raymond and husband Bill McKinney, or of Lynn Courtney doing her stripper routine – although this is something that would not open up on film screens for a few more years.

The drama itself is slow. A lot of the running time is taken up with Claire Brennan quitting her job and getting a new one at the circus and various dalliances there. It takes a long time for the film to seemingly get through its establishing scenes and show us where it is going to go.

The IMDB makes the claim that She Freak is a remake of Freaks (1932), the classic Tod Browning film that was shot using real circus freaks. Most people are unaware that the IMDB is not an authoritative database but a user-contributed wiki with no fact-checking being conducted on information contributed. It is almost impossible to get information removed once it is added – I will talk one day about my ongoing battle to get the claim removed that Fantastic Voyage (1966) was based on a novel by Isaac Asimov.

Producer David F. Friedman as a carnival barker in She Freak (1967)
Producer/writer David F. Friedman as a carnival barker

She Freak is not a remake of Freaks – there is no acknowledgement on the credits to the Browning film as in ‘Based on a Screenplay by ____’, which is usually what I would define as what it takes for something to be considered a remake. That said, it is however a homage. There is the same plot in both films of a scheming woman who marries a carny person for his money, while carrying on with another man and how the rest of the carnies come and take revenge on her after the husband’s death. The homage is particularly evident in the concluding scenes in both films where the freaks pursue the woman under the trailers and the shock twist at the end where we find she has been transformed into a circus freak. Like Freaks, this is more a portrait of a carny world and only becomes a horror film in the last few minutes.

That said, there are also a number of dissimilarities. The freaks are not portrayed as sympathetic characters here – we get a few carnies, at most a dwarf played by Felix Silla, but there is not the same sense of a group of people with physical deformities who have their own world and their own ways. Claire Brennan is a relatively sympathetic figure until about the two-thirds point and does not marry a dwarf but the carnival’s owner. Here she does not poison him but he is killed after a knife fight with her other lover.

Trailer here

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