on 4 February 2006
"We'll make her one of us"- say the Freaks, yet ironically that statement is already true as it is the "normals" who are the real freaks.
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.
on 13 July 2007
You will never see another piece of cinematic history like this one. Some will say this is sick ( like my gf) but take it for what it is.
Fantastic acting, outstanding directing and moving to boot. It starts as a freak show, and ends as heart churning classic.
For years I had heard about the legendary Tod Browning film "Freaks" that so upset audiences it was banned in Boston and Great Britain. I had read the short story "Spurs" on which it was based and when the film was finally screened on campus I talked my roommate into going with me. Most of the people sitting around us knew nothing about the film and when I told them about it everybody started to get nervous. Then the film began...and we all loved it! My roommate and I both had crushes on Daisy Earles who plays Frieda in the film, opposite her brother Harry as Hans.
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).
All Browning really did to terrify audience was to include real freaks in his film, such as Daisy and Violet Hilton the Siamese Twins, Schlitze the Pinhead Girl, Josephine Joseph the Half-Woman/Half-Man, Johnny Eck the Half Boy, Frances O'Connor the Turtle Girl, Peter Robinson the Living Human Skeleton, Olga Roderick the Bearded Lady, Koo Koo the Bird Girl, Martha Morris the Armless Wonder, and Randion the Living Torso, who rolls his own cigarettes despite having neither arms nor legs. The original short story "Spurs" by Tod Robbins had a midget falling for a bareback rider who marries him for his money and at their wedding feast puts her husband on her shoulders and boasts that she will carry him across France. With the aid of his large, angry dog he forces her to do just that. Browning's film expands the scope of the story into something more complex and much more satisfying.
However, the film clearly portrays the "Freaks" with dignity. As Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione) tells someone, "These are all God's children." The true monsters in this film are the "normal" human beings, who receive their just desserts. But when "Freaks" was relased it was banned in the United Kingdom for thirty years (and is still banned in Sweden). During that period Browning was blackballed in Hollywood. He had promised MGM the ultimate scary movie and given the reaction you have to conclude that he delivered. The film was originally intended to have what we would now consider an A-List cast with Victor McLaglen as Hercules, Myrna Loy as Cleopatra, and Jean Harlow as Venus. However, all of the stars reportedly balked at the prospect being in a film with "sideshow exhibitions."
This 1932 film is clearly Browning's best film, vastly superior to the more famous "Dracula," which, after all, was basically a filmed stage play for the most part. It is not even close. You might screen this film for the first time because of its reputation, but you will watch it again because it is a pretty good film, especially given the time at which it was made.
on 27 August 2009
I watched this film yesterday and I enjoyed thoroughly.
How often do we get to see the physically/mentally diverse in a film these days, let alone empowered and taking revenge over callous injustice! And we are supposed to be in the politically correct age.
Of course the people featured on this film are seen through the perspective of 1932, when deformity was considered circus material, not at all tolerated by society at large, and 'freaks' were confined to circuses and traveling fairs as exploitable attractions. But this film also shows that, even if not leading a dignified life by ordinary standards, the 'freaks' living in the circus were also able to earn a living and be part of an accepting community. They are portrayed as people with ordinary problems, relationships, and friendships.
A bit of a voyeuristic touch is noticeable as the man with no arms nor legs is shown lighting a cigarette (with a somewhat proud look in his eyes) or the lady with no arms drinks a glass of bubbly. This could also be viewed as simply showing how people different from us do the same things we do.
The horror chase at the end is quite scary, and despite this film taking the us/them perspective, between normal looking folks and 'freaks', and saying that 'freaks' have their own codes, in a conspiration theory science fiction, the movie's final message is that physical diversity is acceptable, and indeed preferable to beauty when accompanied by evil behaviour, which is punished harshly in the end, when the beautiful baddie is transformed in what she despises the most.
The best part of this movie is that at first the 'freaks' (a man with no limbs, a lady with no arms, a man without legs, three microcephalus ladies, an extremely thin man, the classic circus bearded lady, and others) seem disturbing, but by the end of the movie their diversity is not as noticeable, as in view of their character, their smile, and the way we see their lives as not very different from our own, we identify with them.
I don't think that in our age there is a much better acceptance of physical and mental diversity, and I consider this film as doing a better job at treating the subject than total invisibility in the media, which is pretty much the way in the 21st century.
on 17 June 2001
This is a film filled with numerous contradictions. It at once makes an attempt to defy preconceived ideas about 'otherness', yet at the same time undermines these attempts and therefore serves to reinforce them. Brownings direction is magnificent. The viewer is both unsettled by the use of so-called 'real' freaks, yet also intrigued, which creates a complex relationship between viewer and subject. Ultimately, instead of us considering the distinctions between 'normal' people and 'freaks' to become blurred throughout the course of the film, they actually become more clearly defined, and in particular from the freaks' point of view. It becomes clear that they wish to preserve an identity of differentness and otherness and that is just what they do. They key scene for emphasising this fact is the wedding feast between Hans and Cleo. A communal cup is passed around the table accompanied by ritual chanting. But it is the freak community stamping their claim to a separateness and distictness from the rest of the circus folk. The chant goes "One of us. We accept her, we accept her. Gooble gobble, gooble gobble", firstly asserting their right to be different and to set themselves apart in their self-contained 'freak' community, and secondly emphasising their strangeness and otherness with the gibberish and nonsensical chant. All in all, this is an excellent film. The controversy surrounding the film's original release has made it all the more intriguing for the modern viewer who is attracted to the idea of controversy, however, it is likely that many such viewers will be disappointed. I myself was not.
on 7 September 2016
The bonus documentary included on this disc is a great insight into the film. If you're reading reviews on whether or not to buy this movie, chances are you already know about the plot. Watching this in the 21st century, you can only imagine what an audience thought when first seeing this. Nothing before, or since, has ever been made like this because it's ALL genuine! There's no CGI or special effects, these actors ARE real "freaks"!
on 30 November 2008
Banned in the UK until 1963 'Freaks' is one of the most shocking films to come from the 1930's (along with the original Dracula).
'Freaks' is the horror story of a group of circus inhabitants, with an array of different handicap's (e.g little girls that look like ugle men & people devoid of limbs.) It was at that time a great controversy understandably, most people in the 1930's probably had never seen such people.
The story is mainly based around a dwarf man, Hans (who has the eternal appearnace of a little boy) who falls for an attractive, well-bodied woman called Cleopatra. She is a gold-digger & takes advantage of the affection Hans has for her by plotting with her actual partner, Hercules a way to get his money. When the 'freaks' find out about her unlawful intentions, she's really in for it.
Part of me didn't feel much sympathy for Hans, he has the love of Frieda (his fiance at the start of the film with the same condition to him).
I find it hard to believe someone with his condition (or anyone)with a great deal of money can truly believe a beautiful, able-bodied woman is truly attracted to him (don't get me wrong I know of hook-ups between dwarfs & average height people, but Hans doesn't seem to question her devotion.)
Hans turns his back on Frieda, who throughout the film stands by him, worships him & makes him feel like a man. She remains faithful & loyal even after Hans chooses to marry Cleopatra.
He turned his back on true love for lust & physical attraction which gives me little sympathy for him.
The acting is understandably amateur, but adequate enough that I wouldn't go as far to say that it is bad.
'Freaks' manages to be a scary, 'Revenge of The Nerds' type movie that well deserves the title of 'cult classic'.
In conclusion I would recommend this film to anyone interested in this era of cinema or classic horror films.
The underlying message of the film? Don't mess with family.
Tod Browning's Freaks is as infamous today as it was back in the 30s when it shook film watchers to the core. Of course time has diluted some of its impact, you can imagine that a modern day horror fan drooling over torture porn et al being completely bemused by the reputation afforded Freaks. Yet it still remains a unique and nightmarish piece of film making, the sort of picture that if someone like David Lynch had made it in the modern era it would be heralded as a masterpiece of daring and genius like artistry.
Browning pulls us the viewers into this bizarre carnival society of oddities who are genuinely portrayed by real people. Their codes and ethics are laid bare, but not in some sort of yearning for sympathy, but in a factual way of life. Browning toys with his audience, planting suggestive images of sexual dalliances and role reversals, then he completely pulls the rug from under us to deliver his flip-flop finale.
The messages aren't deep, but they need to be thought about. For even as the freaks of Browning's play terrifyingly pursue their quarry through the rain and mud, as the blood freezes and the macabre imagery strikes the senses, it would be a shame if themes such as love and loyalty be forgotten. 9/10
on 19 August 2009
Ok, if you're looking for a techie film buff review which is going to tell you about the cinematography and refer to other directors and all that jazz, read no further! Personally I loved it. Some reviewers regard it as exploitative but I disagree, since the "freaks" are not presented in any kind of patronising way as far as I could see. On the contrary, the "freaks" are quite rounded characters, given the technological limitations of the era, not to mention the lost footage. It's also a very atmospheric film, and one which, in terms of getting its audience to face up to their prejudices regarding disability, is still highly relevant today. But that's not why I enjoyed it. It's simply a film which engages my sympathies and succeeds in bringing out the earthiness of the circus, as well as being, as far as I'm aware, quite unique, and every bit as uplifting as it is macabre.
on 20 December 2000
It is hard to compare this film to other horror genre films, as the people in the film are essentially playing themselves. It creates the right mood of darkness and suceeds in getting the viewer to understand what life is like for those viewed by society (with all it's supposed PC-ness) as just as the title suggests - Freaks. It flinches from little and the final scenes - shot in pouring rain, mud and nightfall convey the impending fate of the 'non freak' (but villain of the piece) superbly. This film was banned for years before making it onto Channel 4 some years ago.