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Hidden Horrors of Peacock: The High-Concept Slasher Brilliance of Freaky
Let's take a look at one of the best slasher movies of the 21st century so far.
Welcome to Hidden Horrors of Peacock, a monthly column spotlighting off-the-beaten-path scary movies available to watch right now on NBCUniversal's streaming service. From cult classics to forgotten sequels to indie gems you've maybe never heard of, we've got you covered.
Something happened throughout the course of the 2010s in horror cinema, something that's happened before and will almost certainly happen again, because these things move in cycles. Basically, we got years of acclaimed doses of "elevated horror" films that turned up the Serious dial all the way, things like The Witch or It Comes at Night or The Babadook.
For a while there, the genre thrived in the realm of the grim. Then, around the time Get Out hit theaters, the pendulum began to swing a little bit in terms of the highest profile horror releases, because we were reminded that these stories can be scary and fun at the same time. What happened next is sort of the era we're living in now, an era where we can still have grim, serious, heavy horror, but we can also have stuff like M3GAN and Cocaine Bear and Malignant, and have a little fun with things.
This is all a generalization, but the point is: The last five years in particular have given us plenty of horror films that are fun and frightening at the same time, and because of the pandemic, some of them didn't get the audience they deserved.
Which, of course, brings us to Freaky.
Directed by Christopher Landon, fresh off the success of Happy Death Day at the time, and written by emerging high-concept horror maestro Michael Kennedy (with some help from Landon), this brilliant (and yes, I do mean brilliant) slasher movie arrived in the fall of 2020, when a lot of us still weren't comfortable heading back to theaters at all. It did well when it made it to VOD a few weeks later, but still, when I bring the movie up, I find a lot of people missed it because, suffice it to say, there was a lot going on around here in the last couple of months of 2020. So consider this your invitation, even your instruction: Go to Peacock, find Freaky, and press play.
Why Now Is a Great Time to Watch Freaky
As the title suggests, the film merges body swap comedies like Freaky Friday with classic slasher movie tropes. Vince Vaughn stars as the Blissfield Butcher, a local slasher in the classic style who likes to murder teenagers and generally wreak havoc as a kind of neighborhood boogeyman. When he finds Millie (Kathryn Newton), a shy local teenager, in an empty parking lot after a football game, he seems to have found a perfect victim. But Millie proves to be a survivor, and makes it through the night with only a stab wound in the shoulder. The problem? The stab wound came from a magical knife, and now Millie and the Butcher have swapped bodies.
It's a great hook, of course, particularly when the film gets into the meat of the action and lets both Vaughn and Newton dig into their swapped roles. The Butcher, in Millie's body, dons a leather jacket and sets out to murder as many students as possible, while Millie, in the Butcher's body, has to find some way to convince her best friends (Celeste O'Connor and Misha Osherovich) that she's actually the girl they know in a giant serial killer's body, and not a murderer trying to play a trick. It's clever, it's funny, and it provides plenty of opportunities for horror and comedy, particularly when the Butcher heads to shop class and starts looking for some action with a few power tools.
It's not surprising that all of this works. After all, Landon gave us Happy Death Day, so we know that he can deliver on big ideas, and Kennedy is, as anyone who follows him on social media knows, as funny and as well-versed in horror tropes as they come. It's what Freaky does once it's playing within this space that truly sets it apart.
So many slasher movies center on teenagers, particularly teenage girls trying to survive a night of terror as a masked force of darkness stalks them. We see it in Scream, in Halloween, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and so much more. Withdrawn, often picked-on girls like Millie end up fighting for their lives, because, as horror writer Stephen Graham Jones often points out, the slasher is the ultimate bully, and they have to learn to deal with a figure like that. It's a great recipe for a coming-of-age story wrapped up in horror dressing, and it's made even more potent when you add in the body swap element, because that's also a great coming-of-age story. Our heroine, in this case, gets to fight evil and walk a mile in someone else's shoes, all of which allows her to realize who she truly is and what she truly wants. It's a remarkable recipe for success, and Freaky carries it off brilliantly. It's truly one of the best slashers, not just of this century, but of all time, and if you haven't seen it yet, you really need to make that happen.
Freaky is now streaming on Peacock.