One Forgettable 'Freak' Show

Friday, January 27, 2006

"Live Freaky! Die Freaky!" takes its own marginal place in the history of midnight movies, alongside John Waters's classic "Pink Flamingos" and the impenetrable "El Topo," as the kind of film best appreciated by a niche audience, probably one in the throes of one or more mind-altering substances.

This vulgar, sophomoric, gleefully idea-free retelling of the Charles Manson story was made by L.A. punk-rock scenester John Roecker, who posits a time 1,000 years hence when a nomad drifting across an environmentally denuded landscape happens upon a copy of "Healter Skelter." (The names in "Live Freaky! Die Freaky!" have been changed only slightly to protect absolutely no one.) Roecker goes on to retell the story of Manson and his followers, culminating in the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends, using puppets and catchy musical numbers to reduce a grievous crime to a cruel joke. Voiced by such rock icons as Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day), John Doe (of X) and Jane Wiedlin (the Go-Gos), the puppets have a big-eyed, gothic quality reminiscent of Tim Burton; and Roecker seems to have been as inspired by Todd Haynes's legendary underground film "Superstar" -- in which he told Karen Carpenter's life story with surprising tenderness using Barbie dolls and a bootlegged soundtrack -- as by the stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen and the "Frosty the Snowman" cartoon.

Unfortunately, "Live Freaky! Die Freaky!" never transcends its self-conscious efforts to push the envelope of camp; instead it turns into a narcissistic exercise in filthy language, out-of-control drug use and explicit sexuality that can only be described as puppet porn. Instead of a classic in the tradition of Waters at his most provocative, "Live Freaky! Die Freaky!" is a tiresome, instantly forgettable post-punk artifact.

-- Ann Hornaday

Live Freaky! Die Freaky! Unrated, 90 minutes Contains profanity, drug use, graphic sexuality and violence, all perpetrated by clay puppets. Screening Friday and Saturday at midnight at the Avalon Theatre.

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