Monday, August 14, 2017

Full Moon Fever: HIDEOUS!

by Patrick Bromley
In Jacqueline Lovell I trust.

One of the seemingly countless "group of people in a single location deal with pint-sized creatures" movies released by Full Moon in the last 20 years, 1997's Hideous! (aka Deformed Freaks) is mostly business as usual, elevated by the performances -- and one performance in particular. It's a movie that makes me nostalgic for a certain kind of film the company used to make while reminding me that they've pretty much been making the same movie for the last 27 years, meaning I enjoyed my time with it but suspect my brain would lump it in with the rest of Full Moon's middleground output if not for the participation of Jacqueline Lovell, one of the best stars the company ever produced.
Two rival collectors of exotic and unusual specimens -- Dr. Lorca (Michael Citrinini) and Napoleon Lazar (Mel Johnson Jr., the cabbie with five kids to feed in Total Recall) -- battle over possession of some little deformed monsters. A private detective is brought in to mediate alongside a black market dealer (Belinda Yost), her assistant (Rhonda Griffin) and the super hot Sheila (Lovell), the Igor to Dr. Lorca's Frankenstein.

I wish I could say more about the plot of Hideous!, but I can't -- not because I'm afraid of spoiling something, but because there really isn't any more to the story than that. This is a film in which the majority of the running time is handed over to two collector's bickering over possession of some monsters that remain largely unseen, less the traditional Full Moon horror comedy than it is a deal being made in real time. It follows the template of most exploitation movies in that it's almost entirely dialogue save for a few moments of what we paid to see because that stuff is harder and more expensive to pull off. Unfortunately, even those moments in Hideous! aren't all they're cracked up to be thanks to some uninspired creature design and very little articulation of the monsters' movements -- the days of Dave Allen and his great stop motion animation appear to be behind us already in 1997.
And yet, despite these criticisms, I can't say I was ever bored or disengaged during Hideous!. The film is put together well. It's shot quite nicely by Romanian cinematographer Vlad Paunescu, who is also responsible for the gorgeous photography in the first three Subspecies movies. Richard Band's score errs on the side of being a generic Richard Band score, but the main theme has enough personality to stand out. The film was made near the tail end of Full Moon's glory days, meaning that the budget was low and the resources limited but attention was still paid to ensuring that Hideous! at least functions as a film on a technical level.

What really sets something like Hideous! apart from later-period Full Moon output, however, is the cast. Some of the actors, like Mel Johnson Jr., are surprisingly grounded and play to the reality of the outlandish predicament. Others, like Citrinini and Rhonda Griffin, a veteran of The Creeps, go a little cartoony in a roles that are meant to be broad -- their performances are stylized in such a way as to play up the "old dark house" aspects of the film, once a staple of the horror genre in the 1930s and '40s. There are some scenes in which four or five different actors share the frame and appear to be acting in four or five different movies, but because they're all giving good performances in their separate movies it winds up being fun instead of distracting.
Standing above it all is Jacqueline Lovell, an actor who started out doing adult movies before helping to launch Full Moon's "erotic" brand Surrender Cinema with 1996's Femalien and then became part of the stock company of Full Moon proper with her unforgettable turn in Head of the Family the same year. Often called upon to play sexy as she does in Hideous! -- when she's not topless in a gorilla mask (that's right), her costume consists solely of skimpy bottoms and an open leather vest -- Lovell has brilliant comic timing and an ability to underplay all of her reactions for maximum effect. She has an ability to comment on the absurdity of Full Moon movies while still seeming very much at home amidst the absurdity and becomes the bright spot of any of their films in which she appears, up to and including 2014's Trophy Heads, which she outright stole from underneath a cast of genre movie legends like Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer and Linnea Quigley. Like the great Debbie Rochon, Lovell is an incredibly talented actor who is unfairly dismissed for working primarily in B-movies. She deserves to be better known.

Hideous! is among the latest of Full Moon's expanding library of titles to receive the Blu-ray treatment, sporting an uneven but mostly acceptable HD transfer (in its proper widescreen format, one of the main reasons to upgrade these movies from their full frame DVD releases). It includes a couple of special features, including the original VideoZone piece that accompanied the original VHS, some bonus Full Moon trailers and a commentary track from stars Michael Citrinini and Mel Johnson Jr., who are in good spirits and clearly have fondness for the film and for each other. I might have preferred a track from director Charles Band, but I'm happy to see Full Moon including any bonus content at all.
Though unlikely a Full Moon title to which I'll be regularly returning, the fact that Hideous! gives Jacqueline Lovell a rare starring role means it's bound to come off the shelf a few more times. Even Charles Band recognizes that she owns the movie, as her character becomes more and more important to the story by the end, adding to her screen time. The movie's monsters wind up becoming practically incidental, which might explain why Hideous! was neither sequelized nor merchandised -- a rarity for a Full Moon title. That's a shame, because while I have no interest in any replicas or resin statues of the monsters, I'd happily spring for a Jacqueline Lovell action figure. Take my money, Charlie Band.

Got a title you'd like to see covered in a future installment of Full Moon Fever? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. To be perfectly honest, I haven't seen many Full Moon movies. However, I did see Dollman a few years back which I thoroughly enjoyed. Eventually, I'm going to check out Robot Jox, which I've heard so many great things about over the years. Anyway, I digress, excellent article as always, Patrick. By the way, do you have any interest in getting the limited edition Full Moon box set, Patrick?

    1. Dollman is a good one. So is Robot Jox! I won't be getting that Empire box because I already have most if not all of the titles from Scream Factory and they're the same discs. I wish the box had included some exclusive titles, but no such luck.

    2. Fair enough, Patrick. Besides, that price for the Full Moon box set is way too extravagant for most people. Take care, Patrick, and I look forward to listening to your future podcasts in the subsequent future.