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Freaks  [DVD]
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Now regarded as a landmark film but virtually disowned by MGM when it was first produced, Tod Browning's film, set in a travelling circus, works as an old-fashioned morality play against avarice. Browning used a collection of handicapped actors and performers for the circus community, which initially welcomes the beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra into their group when she marries midget circus owner, Hans. However, as it becomes clear that Cleopatra is only after Hans' money, and is conducting an affair with the strongman, the close-knit clan of 'freaks' plan a revenge.
One of the most famous, most shocking and, for much of its existence, most elusive of cult films, Tod Browning's Freaks remains worthy of its dubious top billing by literary critic Leslie Fiedler as the greatest of all Freak movies. At the centre of the story are two circus midgets, Hans and Frieda (already well known in the 1930s through film and advertising appearances as Harry and Daisy Earles), whose marriage plans are blasted when Hans becomes the target of the aerialist Cleopatra's plot to marry him then kill him off for his money. During what is certainly one of the most notorious scenes in cult film history, the wedding party of freaks ritually embrace Cleopatra as one of us. Through her undisguised horror at this and her gruesome punishment by the freaks, the film bluntly confronts viewers about our awkwardness about different bodies while simultaneously stirring up fear and alarm in familiar horror-movie style. Better known for the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula (1931), Brownings showmanship was equally a product of the circus (he was himself an adolescent contortionist in a travelling show). His meshing of circus and cinema--two dangerous entertainments--produces Freaks' uniquely disquieting effect.
Startled and indignant preview audiences forced the producers to add an explanatory foreword to the film but even this crackles with sensationalism as it veers between sideshow-style sympathy and fright warning. None the less, protests and local censorship ensued and the film never reached the mass audience for which it was made. Still, some of the real stars of the midway Ten-in-One shows of the 1920s and 30s (Johnny Eck, Daisy and Violet Hilton the Siamese twins, Prince Randian, the Hindu Living Torso) are showcased here as themselves and it is their undeniably real presence in what is otherwise familiar fictional terrain which is still so provocative. --Helen Stoddart --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
When Hans the midget first catches sight of the lovely Cleopatra, he thinks she is the most beautiful "normal" he has ever seen. She treats it as joke and flirts with him to poke fun at him, but when she finds out he has inherited a large sum of money, she hoodwinks him into marrying her, and with the help of Hercules her strong man lover, she plots kill him. All the other freaks, including; Frieda the dwarf, the Bearded Lady, the half boy, the living torso, the half woman/half man,the pin heads, Koo-Koo the bird girl, the stork woman, the living skeleton and the armless wonders can not except her as one of them.
It is finally on their wedding night, when the Freaks learn that the whole thing is a hoax, when Cleo is repulsed and insulted by the freaks' propsition she is now one of them having married Hans. The following evening the Freaks witness her trying to poison Hans, and plot a shocking, terrifying revenge, in an attempt to really make her one of them which is the code of the freaks: "offend one, you offend them all".
The wedding scene is a prime example of excellent use of "mise en scene", with the bird girl dancing atop the table, and the Freaks' chanting of " one of us, one of us...gooble, gobble..." while passing round "the loving cup of wine".
The revenge scene however has to steel the title of one of the best scenes in cinematic history, with the freaks crawling in the pouring rain, chasing Cleo and Hercules through the woods. What makes it even more scary is that the viewer sees hardly anything, therefore the terror relies solely on imagination to decide what happened.
To conclude, this is a cult/horror/drama classic which needs a place in all DVD collections and proves tht you should'nt judge a book by its cover.
Fantastic acting, outstanding directing and moving to boot. It starts as a freak show, and ends as heart churning classic.
The story is quite simple: Hans and Frieda are a pair of midgets in love, but Hans thinks that Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) the bareback rider is beautiful. Cleopatra plays with Hans' affections until she learns he has money. Over the objections of her boyfriend, Hercules (Henry Victor) the freak show strongman, she accepts Hans' proposal. During the wedding feast when the freaks accept her into their ranks, she makes it clear how much she despises them all. But when Hans starts to become ill because of the poison she is feeding him, the freaks decide it is time to take matters into their own hands. The film's climax, when the freaks chase Cleopatra and Hercules during a rainstorm, is truly chilling, although Cleopatra's final fate is as unreal as it is ironic (and was supposed to be even worse: but the scene of Hercules singing soprano in Madame Tetralini's new sideshow--think about it--was too intense for early audiences and was cut).Read more ›
Concentrating on the DVD: it’s a very decent packaging as a DVD.
You get a documentary which, at 59 minutes, is almost as long as the feature itself. It’s very thorough and works its way through many aspects of the film- in particular the life stories, in brief, of most of the ‘freaks’ actors, talking about their life before during and after the film, which is just as fascinating- if sometimes morbidly fascinating- as the film itself.
You also get a short additional “alternative endings” documentary- which, rather than being actual different footage, is a demonstration of the two different shortened endings that were used for certain cinema releases. (The version in the main feature is full-length, whereas the alternative endings were shorter, more abrupt endings.)
The picture quality is excellent. It seems to be a good clean print, or it’s been restored extremely well, and the picture really does shine. There are certain shots which aren’t quite right, but this is clearly a fault in the original filmmaking process- the DVD probably couldn’t have looked better.
The audio quality is moderately poor, which isn’t surprising given that it’s from the very early days of talking pictures. I ended up putting the subtitles on just to be sure I wasn’t missing something!
Like it or loathe it, “Freaks” as a very interesting bit of cinema history, and this is a well-presented DVD of it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In Freaks of Nature, we welcome you to Dillford, where three days ago, everything was peaceful and business as usual: the vampires were at the top of the social order,... Read more
Interesting film! Originally saw it many years ago and was fascinated at it had originally been 'banned'.Published 4 months ago by Pamela Davies