When you think about it, it’s a little bit strange there’s an entire genre of body-switching movies, from the “Freaky Friday” iterations to “18 Again!” to “All of Me” to “The Change-Up” to “Heaven Can Wait” to “Face/Off” to “Dream a Little Dream” and you could even include the likes of “Big” and “13 Going on 30” as a sub-genre in which there’s not technically a body switch per se, but a kid is living inside a grown-up’s body. Whew!
Now comes the horror comedy “Freaky,” and this is your chance to see the hulking Vince Vaughn play a notorious serial killer known as “The Blissfield Butcher” AND a teenage girl with confidence issues.
Spoiler alert: He’s convincing in both roles.
Arriving in theaters just in time for Friday the 13th, “Freaky” has a gruesome but cheerfully self-aware meta vibe, a la the “Scream” movies. (As two teenagers run away from a serial killer, one says, “You’re black, I’m gay, we are SO dead!” That kind of thing.) Director and co-writer Christopher Landon (“Happy Death Day”) takes his inspiration from “Freaky Friday,” the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers that has been turned into a multi-generational franchise for Disney. Only this time, instead of a mother and daughter switching bodies, Kathryn Newton’s Millie Kessler, a sweet but troubled high school girl still mourning the loss of her father a year previously, is caught up in the old supernatural switcheroo with Vince Vaughn’s Barney Calvin Garris, better known as the Blissfield Butcher, who according to town folklore has been showing up periodically to slay his victims over the years before disappearing into the night.
“Freaky” opens in classic horror movie fashion, with a group of teenagers hanging out late at night and swapping stories about the Blissfield Butcher, who according to one version started his killing spree way back in 1977. When one of the kids cackles at the idea of some elderly codger being dangerous, another shoots back: “Don’t underestimate a straight white male’s propensity for violence, I don’t care how f---ing old they are.”
Cue the arrival of the Blissfield Butcher, who uses everything from a broken wine bottle to a toilet seat to a tennis racket to rack up the bloody kills in true drive-in movie fashion. The town of Blissfield is rocked by the horrific deaths of four local teens — but not enough to cancel the big football game a night later, where the hapless Millie is the school mascot, a Beaver (har de har har) and finds herself all alone at the stadium without a ride home when her Chardonnay-soaked mom falls asleep at home on the sofa. Next thing you know, the ol’ Blissfield Butcher is stabbing Millie with some ancient Aztec dagger, and ta da! Millie is now inside the Butcher’s body and the Butcher is inside Millie’s body, and if the curse is not lifted within 24 hours, it will be permanent.
After the obligatory indoctrination scenes where the Butcher marvels that he’s now a petite blonde with breasts and Millie delights in peeing while standing up, Millie takes a certain pleasure in being a physically intimidating presence, while the Butcher quickly discovers he can no longer use brute strength to overpower his victims. It’s a learning curve, people. After a hilarious battle in the kitchen involving pots and pans and soup spoons, Millie in the Butcher’s body manages to convince her best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) of her true identity. Meanwhile, the Butcher in Millie’s body has a newfound sexy swagger and finds new and creative ways to slay his way through the days and nights.
Director Landon knows his way around the usual horror movie cliches, from things that go bump in the night to jump-cut scares to excruciatingly disgusting close-ups of the victims getting sliced in half by a buzzsaw or impaled on a spear or given the hook, literally. The music by Bear McCreary follows the scary movie playbook, and the production design by Hillary Andujar is creatively creepy. (One giant house looks like a warehouse of props for horror films.) “Freaky” isn’t exactly a classic of the body-switch genre, but it’s a bloody good variation on the theme.