“Freaky” delivers a lot of horror, and a chunk of heart


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

(1) Vince Vaughn plays serial killer “The Blissfield Butcher,” while Kathryn Newton as high school student Millie Kessler. They magically trade bodies in a take-off on "Freaky Friday." (2) Millie with her two best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich). The story celebrates feminist, gay, and misfit power behind its slasher story.



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“FREAKY”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2020; R for strong, bloody horror violence, sexual content, and profanity throughout; Streaming via Amazon Video/Prime (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: Feature commentary with director/co-writer Christopher Landon (digital & disc)




CHRISTOPHER LANDON who brought us “Happy Death Day” and “Happy Death Day 2U” returns with another entry into the world of supernatural horror-comedy.


It’s good, but it could have been so much better. The “Death Day” movies experty mixed scares and laughs, with fresh twists that defied tropes. Unfortunately, “Freaky” exploits those tired standards at the opening and finale. We may as well watch another lame venture into the canon of Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger. A tacky sex scene, gore-drenched kills and excessive profanity push "Freaky" beyond the promised humor (the trailer was great) into same-old, same-old.


Still, what’s good is very good – like the parts between the beginning and end – thanks to clever writing and acting from its two leads, Vince Vaughn as The Butcher and Kathryn Newton as Millie Kessler, our final girl. Lively, likable co-stars Celeste O'Connor, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton, Dana Drori, and Katie Finneran also deliver thrills, fun and snappy dialogue. This team works and plays together so well, it’s easy to ignore the opening gaffe … until we hit the end trope and that awful, end-credit song, “Suck My Cherry” by Haiku Hands. It's especially cringe-worthy following Bear McCreary's original score.


Did you really have to go there, Landon? Yeah, apparently he did.



“I honestly did not want to make a hard-core slasher film without the gore. We went hard at the violence … I always try to go as far as I can because we have permission to do it in a movie like this.” — Christopher Landon, “Crafting the Kills”


(1) The Blissfield Butcher claims another victim on Friday the 11th. He appears periodically during Homecoming Weeks to kill students in terrible and inventive ways. (2) The Butchers mask was designed to evoke classic slashers such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. (3) Dressed in her beaver mascot costume, Millie insists on waiting for her mother to pick her up after the homecoming game.







“Freaky” is the horror version of “Freaky Friday,” a 1976 Walt Disney movie starring Barbara Harris Jodie Foster about a mother-daughter body swap that was remade in 2003 with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, after a made-for-TV version starring Shelly Long and Gaby Hoffman. There have been others. But this time, the original magical Chinese fortune cookie device is switched out for a mean-looking sacrificial Aztec blade known as La Dola.


The “urban” legend of The Butcher comes out in the opening scene, but it doesn’t make sense. How can the killer be a legend if he’s been active, off and on during his one lifetime, showing up at the high school’s homecoming to kill students? So we’re puzzling over this as the main characters, misfit Millie, and her friends Nyla (O’Connor) and Josh (Osherovich) prepare for the homecoming game. We learn that Millie’s father passed away a year ago, and she’s still grieving along with her work-hard police officer sister Charlene (Drori) and mother, Coral (Finneran), who downs a nightly bottle of Chardonnay to ease her pain. That Landon makes these characters relatable and sympathetic is one of his gifts.


Still dressed in her beaver mascot costume, Millie is attacked by The Butcher after the game. Mom, drunk, is passed out and forgets to pick her up. The Aztec blade causes the body switch so Millie’s body wakes up with The Butcher’s soul, while he awakens wearing Millie in what becomes an effective disguise. The pretty blonde image makes it easy for him to get close to his victims without causing suspicion. Meanwhile, Millie, trapped in The Butcher's body, has to find a way to get her friends to believe she's become a very big he and help her. Crunch-time arrives when they learn they only have 24 hours to switch back or the change becomes permanent. That's plenty of time for students and a rotten teacher to be massacred in inventive, gory ways.


(1) Millie tries to hide from The Butcher, who has found her alone. (2) The Butcher raises La Dola, a sacred Aztec dagger, to kill Millie. They become surrounded by an ancient shrine. (3&4) Their blood is exchanged, causing Millie and The Butcher to exchange bodies on Friday the 13th, another reference to the horror franchise. (5) The Butcher, now in Millies body, eyes a potential murder weapon.







What makes this work and brings the most appeal is the chemistry between Vaughn’s Millie and her friends, and the evil confidence and edgy fashion sense The Butcher acquires in his new body.


“[Kathryn Newton and I] would swap ideas on each character, share backstories about the characters and how we felt about it. We came up with physicalities that made sense." — Vince Vaughn, “Split Personalities: Millie vs. The Butcher” featurette


“It is so much fun to play a serial killer.” — Kathryn Newton, “Split Personalities: Millie vs. The Butcher” featurette



VIDEO

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment provides a fine 1080p transfer from a 4K Digital Intermediate (2.39:1 aspect ratio). While the 4K UHD has been available on streaming platforms for several months and provides a more striking visual experience with its HDR toning and added resolution.


Landon frequently mentions the movie’s “low budget” during his commentary, how filming was limited in various areas and how he jumped in with a surprise, unscheduled effects scene threw in without incurring the accountant’s wrath.

Color is well saturated and bold; it looks realistic outside of the fantasy elements. Multi-ethnic complexions look authentic and natural. Blacks are solid, with good highlights. Detail is quite good, though not extreme. We see what we should, and the quality is consistent throughout.


(1) Butcher-Millie arrives at Blissfield Valley High with a new look. (2) The Butcher kills mean girl Ryler (Melissa Collazo) in the schools cryotherapy tank. (3) Joshs Spanish teacher, Señora Cayenes (Maria Sager), explains how La Dolas magic works. (3) Millie-Butcher tries to convince her friends shes not the killer. (4) Millie-Butcher convinces a high school bully to leave her friends alone.









Fans will enjoy easter eggs like tributes to the original “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” in which Vaughn starred. Landon says “Scream” (1996), “Scream 2” (1997), “Urban Legend” (1998), “Fright Night” (1985) and “Jennifer’s Body” (2009) were some of his inspirations.


“I’m a huge fan of horror comedies. If I have a certain style and a trademark, it’s that I actually blend even more than just the two … ["Freaky" is] an adventure movie. If you create characters that are relatable and likable, you’ll kind of go anywhere with them.” — Christopher Landon, “Christopher Landon’s Brand of Horror”


AUDIO

“Freaky” delivers an excellent six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack with clear dialogue, terrific effects presentation, and an original score by Bear McCreary. An outstanding blend gives us full room clarity, with shock and softer moments, and dynamic bass using all channels. There’s no need to keep the remote at hand. Bravo, Universal!


The digital versions are coded with the lesser six-channel Dolby Digital Plus, while still provides a good amount of fidelity.


(1) Butcher-Millie advances on Millie's crush, Booker Strode (Uriah Shelton). (2) Millie's sister Charlene (Dana Drori) captures Millie-Butcher at the police station. (3) Butcher-Millie considers his next victim.








EXTRAS

Aside from the Landon commentary, there are a nice bunch of bonus features including deleted scenes, and four short featurettes: “Split Personalities: Millie vs. The Butcher”; “Crafting the Kills,” focusing on a murder-by-wine-bottle, and the execution of a detestable teacher, and “The Final Girl Reframed,” where Landon explains, “[Millie] realizes that her strength doesn’t come from a man’s body. Her strength comes from within herself.”


“It’s hard to mix genres. You set a tone with the audience, then you break expectations. It’s hard to do consistently for a comedy or a horror film. To be able to go back and forth and have the audience laugh and feel comfortable to do so and then also jump and be afraid is a quilt that’s not as easily woven as it may seem. [Landon] is terrific.” — Vince Vaughn, “Christopher Landon’s Brand of Horror”

“Freaky” is a good watch for horror fans looking for thrills and kills. The humor and heart is an unexpected bonus.


— Kay Reynolds


(1) La Dola glows. (2) Josh and Nyla hold Butcher-Millie, preparing for the body swap, hoping they're not too late. (3) “I never saw this idea before, where you’re swapped into a horror movie. When I saw it, it felt fun to me and different.” — Vince Vaughan, “Christopher Landon’s Brand of Horror” (4) Millie with her mother played by Katie Finneran. “Final girls are typically the survivor that makes it to the end. Typically sweet and demure … Millie begins as a classic, almost tropey final girl. But because she ends up in a very scary man’s body she goes on a very unique journey and really comes out of her shell.” — Christopher Landon, “Final Girl Reframed”











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