BAXTER — “Freaky” is the latest entry in the Friday the 13th body-swapping horror genre that has often been played for laughs.
The new movie was released last week on the superstitiously unlucky date at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and Sunset Cinema in Pequot Lakes. Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton are a middle-aged serial killer and his intended high school victim, respectively, who switch bodies.
The bug-eyed manic Vaughn looks every bit of his 50 years in the feature film but tones it down at the start as the stone-cold Blissfield Butcher. Fresh-faced Newton co-stars as the shy teen who recently lost her dad while her alcoholic mom and cop sister threaten to smother her.
Newton as Millie likes to think of herself as a normal teen girl — obsessed with a hunky jock who doesn’t notice her, for example, with a pair of besties, with whom she teams up to reverse the soul-swapping curse.
Vaughn’s physicality makes it easy to believe the imposing 6-foot-5-inch actor could rack up victims with little difficulty. But when the tables are turned and the Minneapolis-born Vaughn becomes and acts like a typical teenage girl that’s a foot shorter, the laughs really begin.
The backstory of the Blissfield Butcher opens the R-rated movie, with a bit of expository about the legendary serial killer from a pair of students on a date at the home of one of the teens whose wealthy father collects or deals with antiquities, such as a soul-switching dagger.
The four teens are summarily murdered in a variety of over-the-top gleefully gruesome ways by the Blissfield Butcher — wine bottle down the throat, a broken tennis racket jammed in the ears and a spear, to name a few — who escapes from the scene with the ancient dagger.
A bullied Millie in a beaver mascot costume cheers on the high school football team soon after the slaughter of her peers but finds herself alone after the game when her mother sleeps off a bender with a wine bottle and forgets to pick up the girl from the football field.
The serial killer gives chase after the solitary attractive teen — a prerequisite of any horror film -- and upon catching up with her stabs her in the shoulder during a full moon and initially unbeknownst to the both of them the violent but nonlethal act causes their bodies to switch.
The Blissfield Butcher and Millie wake up the following morning and to their delight and horror, respectively, begin to realize the mystical curse attached to the ornamental dagger is the cause of their predicament, with the killer liking his youthful body while Millie is now a wanted man.
Vaughn says little at the start of the film as a murderer, like other stoic and powerful boogeymen such as Jason Voorhees from the “Friday the 13th” horror franchise, and Millie in the serial killer’s body is also relatively similarly closed-mouth compared to herself at the start of the film.
But Vaughn steals the show when he fully commits and inhabits Millie’s body, and his portrayal of a shy, sensitive and insecure lovelorn teenaged girl is played with surprising sweetness and to comedic effect as the grizzled Vaughn tries to convince Millie’s BFFs it’s really her.
A particularly funny scene takes place in the men’s restroom in which Vaughn is shocked, curious and innocently fascinated by her new gender while a born-again Millie amps up and uses her sexuality to prey on hormonal high school boys who are oblivious of the danger.
Another memorable scene involves Vaughn as Millie alone in a car with her high school crush, who eventually learns and believes Millie is in the Blissfield Butcher’s body. The boy even shares an awkward kiss with Vaughn but they agree to stop until Millie can get her body back.
Millie’s friends learn from the school Spanish teacher who translates the dagger’s inscription that the real Millie has until midnight Friday the 13th to trade bodies with the real Blissfield Butcher by stabbing him with the dagger or otherwise the transformation becomes permanent.
“Freaky” is a gender-switching twist on the classic 1972 children’s novel “Freaky Friday” by Mary Rodgers in which a 13-year-old and her mother spend a day in each other’s bodies. Many film adaptations followed in 1976, 1995, 2003 and 2018, with “Freaky” being the latest.
Older audiences may remember the 1976 fantasy-comedy film starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster in the lead roles while younger audiences may remember Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan as a mother and daughter, respectively, in the 2003 movie adaptation.
Unintentional body-switching is a premise rife with potential chuckles but often also serves up some life lessons along the way involving what it’s like to be another person, walk a mile in their proverbial shoes and to see things from another person’s perspective.
“Freaky” was directed by Christopher Landon, whose father Michael Landon starred in the beloved historical drama TV series “Little House on the Prairie,” which was based in Minnesota, and the actor was the lead in the fantasy-drama TV series “Highway to Heaven.”
Christopher Landon also directed the critically acclaimed time-twisting horror film “Happy Death Day” and its sequel from Blumhouse Productions, which has made a name for itself with other horror-tinged movies such as the “Paranormal Activity” and “The Purge” film franchises.
“Freaky” seems to deftly blend the inherent horror and unintentionally comedy that comes with a body-switching plot, and the new movie is “Certified Fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes, a ratings aggregator. Likewise, movie audiences have given the film generally positive reviews.