While I wouldn’t describe Freaks as a horror movie in any real sense, they are some unsettling moments. The movie made the circuits as an exploitation film, something to ogle and stare at, like the sideshows it portrays.
Tod Browning directs, film lovers will know his name from the film classic Dracula, with Lugosi, a film on my rewatch list thanks to this handy little book.
The story is short and simple enough, much like the film itself, clocking in at just over 60 minutes, centering on a circus, a woman in the show, Cleopatra, learns that one of the… “Freaks” who is quite taken with her, Hans, has an inheritance coming his way, so she encourages his affections, going so far as to marry him – in the infamous wedding feast scene… “One of us! One of Us!”
But we and the rest of them learn that she is poisoning Hans, to kill him off so she can claim money for herself and her lover.
If you cross one of them, you cross all of them, as we’re told in the film’s opening crawl, and they take their revenge out on her.
The ‘freaks’ flaws may all be on the outside, by some definition, but not one character in the film is without them. Even one of the heroes, the clown, Phorso has flaws, though he’s accepting of everyone, not judging them by any standards, he tends to get caught up in the moment, and forgets things, like his date with a young lass named Venus.
If the circus they show is a microcosm for the world at large, it doesn’t speak well for us as people, flawed, judgmental, greedy, with only a few being truly good-hearted, and those who take out vengeance on others they feel deserve it.
The idea of vengeance is not one that appeals to me, I can understand the motivation for it, but it’s not something I’ve ever felt I needed. Saying that, I will also admit that Cleopatra gets her comeuppance, and it is a well-deserved fate.
The sequence in the rain storm and the mud is the one that I found most unnerving, watching as they start to hunt down Cleopatra and her lover who is exchanging blows with Phorso.
There were some things that will stay with me for some time to come, even though I had seen pics of some of the people in it before, seeing them in motion brings a whole new life to them, and the Living Torso, and the Half-Man stand out for me.
For all that, the film kind of defies categorization, it’s not a horror, it’s not a drama, it’s not a love story, it’s not a revenge film, though there are elements of all. There are moments that are uncomfortable to watch, and there are moments that are filled with joy. It’s a slice of life film, of an entertainment form that used to be a tradition, long lost now thankfully, that of the sideshow.
Have you seen it? If so, share your thoughts!