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Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning's 1932 cult classic film, which was controversial upon its initial release, that details the lives of circus sideshow freaks.

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A touching and intelligent portrait of "freaks" and "humans".

  • Mar 28, 2011
**** out of ****

"Freaks" is one of those films that I interpret in ways that most would not, yet I still adore it as much as the next guy. "Freaks" is known best as a horror film, although I personally see it as more of a touching drama with a good message. It's a masterpiece for sure, and should please horror films in spite of the lack of true horror. The only part in the film that is actually intended to be disturbing is the ending, which frankly, I find to be just plain laugh-out-loud hilarious. I didn't laugh because it was poorly made; I laughed because what I saw was genuinely funny. And if it was meant to be disturbing, then I mut pay "Freaks" the respect of admitting that the ending gets closer to disturbing than that of most modern day horror films. Where this film really shines- and what makes it such a masterwork- is the visual style and charm of the characters. "Freaks" draws you in by giving the freaks personalities, and humanizing them by the end. Sure, "Freaks" was controversial and challenged for its ending when it was released. But now we can enjoy it for its themes, its visuals, and its utter charm. It's a film of grace; and historically, it did a lot for the horror genre. It's daring, touching, and yes, even special. I believe that the film improves with age; as only the best horror classics can. And to think that few horror films are as genuine and emotionally honest as this one. Why can't they all be this intoxicating? Why can't they all be this GOOD? There's an irresistible charm to "Freaks" that cannot be remade or replicated; which is why nobody has attempted at either. I'd recommend it to just about anyone who is accepting of the message-making involved in the story. It's unique, visually interesting, and I loved it. An instant classic in my book.

What I like about "Freaks" is that it's a simple movie with a simple plot. It will never confuse you because frankly, it just wants you to stay along for the ride. It's also a short film, but then again so were most films released in 1932. The film follows a group of side-show performers, "freaks", if you will, who put on shows for people of normality to enjoy. They embrace their physical flaws, but are always having to remind people that they have feelings like any other human being. One "freak" in particular is a wee-man named Hans. He is one of the main focuses of the story because of his attraction for a very-normal trapeze-artist. The wee-man is quite rich, and he is also "with" a wee-woman at the moment. But yet he lusts after this beautiful new lady who fascinates him with her artistry. But as it turns out, she is but another person who has come to see the show, and she too laughs at the wee-man. She, like the rest of the world, just doesn't understand; and wee-man is ignorant of her mockery. The message her is essentially: "Freaks have feelings too". Perhaps the film even means to say that these "freaks" are more human than, well, humans. They may be cursed by physical deformity; but humans are plagued by greed. Everyone has their flaws, I guess. "Freaks" gets its message across in just the right way. It ends right, and in a way that was intended to be disturbing yet now comes off as just plain funny. But if you look closer into the resolution, you will see something darker, sadder, and even more disturbing. That is the thirst for vengeance; which comes from the wee-man character of Hans. I think I'm giving too much away, even if there isn't much to spoil. "Freaks" is, in fact, simple and sweet. And I was in the mood for something of the like.

Whilst watching "Freaks", I couldn't help but wonder, "Now how did they do that?" THAT of course referring to the visuals which consist of the film's "freaks". There is a human-torso, a dwarf, and near the end, a human-duck. Of course, I was compelled to look further into the production, and discovered that each "freak" is played by REAL people with REAL deformities. This may be one of the only times that you see something like that. Given this, the performances are honest and touching; truly exceptional. Harry Earles, in particular, plays Hans. Earles is unique and interesting in his portrayal of this troubled, mocked wee-man. I liked the performance especially because of the emotional transformation we see when regarding the character. It's truly unique to behold. As is this film.

If "Freaks" is about the fact that literal "freaks" are human beings too, then it's the best film about such a concept. Few films can touch such a thing with as much honesty and truth as this one here. I also like horror film with build-up leading to a satisfactory conclusion, and while the ending here isn't THAT horrific, it's still good and funny. Through separate segments, each intended to HUMANIZE our "freaks", director Tod Browning makes us feel for the characters. We are supposed to hate those who are normal, and like only the "freaks". The film makes us understand their pain without going into it with much depth. No, this film is not about pain; it is about misunderstanding and cruelty. It says something about human beings. Me, I would not laugh, and I do not laugh, at the "freaks" that inhabit my every-day life. If you're like me and you can appreciate these people, then "Freaks" is the movie for you. I found it charming and touching, as well as visually astounding. It was groundbreaking for the horror genre, and it has "classic" written all over it. I loved it.

If one thing from "Freaks" has been replicated or reused, it is the common message. This is a good message, but when few films get it wrong, "Freaks" executes it perfectly. It gets the job done, whether you want a horror film or a genre out of this classic. In many ways, you get a little bit of both; and I have no problem with that. To all REAL horror fans: see "Freaks", if you have not already. It's a great film made for those who enjoy historically important horror movies. This is not necessarily the best horror film, but it's one of the most important. Alongside "The Exorcist", "The Wicker Man", Halloween", and many more; "Freaks" is an enjoyable film. It balances humor with fear; and drama with sorrow. I watched some of the extras on the DVD to get a little more insight, and I am happy that I did so. If you do watch this film, I suggest you do the same; for what you will find will give you the kind of information you may or may not be looking for once the film has finished. All I can suggest as of now is that you need to have that child-like fascination with "freaks" and "monsters" to enjoy this film. You also need to understand them emotionally. If you can do so, then good for you. There is always going to be a child inside of me who can enjoy and be fascinated by a film as visually fantastical as "Freaks". It's one-of-a-kind, as all great films are, and had an impact on horror. For that, I appreciate it. And for being as touching as it is, I treasure it.

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March 28, 2011
Tod Browning is the man. Thank you for sharing this. My friend's going to go crazy for this review!
March 28, 2011
btw, I facebook'd this review and featured it!
March 28, 2011
How can I find it on Facebook?
March 28, 2011
I'll message you...
More Freaks reviews
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Disturbing, but really good. Well made for its time.
review by . March 31, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
In the early 1930s, Hollywood had discovered the monster movie and the monster movie was all the rage. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and many other monsters like them were huge at the box office. At the time, Tod Browning was a hugely successful silent film director who had a major film hit with DRACULA. Browning had been trying for several years to adapt a short story, Tod Robbins' "Spurs", into a feature film with Lon Chaney scheduled to appear. However, it took the success of DRACULA before …
review by . November 10, 2008
Back in vogue after being shunned and even banned at the time of its release, Freaks is a daring look into the lives of unusual circus performers in an era 75 years lost and gone. Having been made in 1932, you won't be seeing any special effects or phenomenal feats, but what you will see is the best collection of freak show performers Hollywood could gather at the time.     The plot is fairly simple. Beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) toys with midget Hans (Harry …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


Starring Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates
Directed by Tod Browning
Writer:  Clarence Aaron 'Tod" Robbins

Product Description
Treachery is discovered amongst a traveling circus sideshow. Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 09/13/2005 Starring: Wallace Ford Roscoe Ates Run time: 62 minutes Rating: Nr Director: Tod Browning

Also Known As: Forbidden Love (USA) (informal title)
Nature's Mistakes (USA) (informal title)
The Monster Show
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Director: Tod Browning
Genre: Classics, Drama, Horror, Romance
Release Date: February 20, 1932
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: August 10, 2004
Runtime: 64minutes
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Warner Bros. Pictures
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