Sunday, April 10, 2011


'Freaks' is a movie that i heard about as a teenager. Prior to the internet exploding in popularity and accessibility, zines/magazines/friends/books were my only options for 'culturally' educating myself. I read a number of music and film magazines religiously in order to keep abreast of new music and gems that i hadn't yet discovered. It was around this time that 'Freaks' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant".

Reading a short article on it i mentally made a note to try and track it down to see what all the fuss was about. However this was easier said than done in my tiny village where livestock outnumbered humans 10-1. It was only a few years later when browsing through a friends extensive DVD collection that i found a copy. It was not strictly a horror film as i'd previously read but rather a tale of human relationships and the moral that beauty is more than skin deep.

Watch 'Freaks' above

Tod Browning produced and directed the film which was released by MGM. The film was based on Tod Robbins' short story "Spurs". Browning was an American actor, director and screenwriter who had been a member of a traveling circus in his early years. He had run away at the age of 16 to join the circus and spent a number of years traveling with sideshows,carnivals and circuses. Since Browning cast actual deformed actors, moviegoers of the time found this shocking and distasteful. As a result the film was banned for over 30 years. In the early 1960s it was rediscovered and gradually became a cult film. In 1994, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant".

Much of the film was drawn from his personal experiences and the film nudges the viewer to question the perception behind physical appearances. The so called freaks may be physically deformed but they come across as trusting, generous people while the real monsters are two of the non deformed members of the circus who are self serving and deceptive.

The plot revolves around stunningly beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra. Hans is a sideshow midget who, although he is engaged to Frieda, is smitten with Cleopatra. The wily trapeze artist learns of his large inheritance,who feigns affection and sets about seducing him. She succeeds and at their wedding reception the other 'freaks' resolve that they will accept her in spite of being a 'normal' outsider. During the reception they hold an initiation ceremony to show their acceptance which freaks Cleopatra out. As a result she accidentally reveals that she has been having an affair with Hercules, the strong man.

Shortly thereafter, Hans is taken ill and Cleopatra begins to gradually poison him by spiking his medicine. Her plan is to kill Hans, inherit his money and run away with Hercules. One of the circus performers overhears Cleopatra talking about her plan and informs the others. In the film's climax, the freaks attack Cleopatra and Hercules with guns, knives, and various sharp-edged weapons, hideously mutilating them during a bad storm. The film concludes with a revelation of Cleopatra's fate: she herself has been turned into a freak, reduced to performing in a sideshow as the squawking 'human duck'."

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