Freaks is a 1932 horror movie set in a circus. The movie is based on the short story “Spurs” (written by Tod Robbins) and focuses on the lives of the ‘freaks’ who perform in the circus sideshow acts.
Before going any further with this Freaks movie review, I’d like to share some background information.
Freaks was directed by Tod Browning, who spent some of his earlier years living in a travelling show. Because of this, he had a wealth of personal experience and knowledge to draw upon while he was directing his Freaks movie.
Browning decided not to use clever costumes and makeup to create his freaks. He chose to cast people with real deformities instead. Unfortunately, his decision to do so ended what had been a very promising career. Moviegoers were uncomfortable with the knowledge that the stars of the film were exactly what they seemed to be. In fact, Freaks was considered such a controversial movie it was banned in the UK for about 30 years.
I’ve watched Freaks several times so it’s a relatively easy movie for me to review. I’ve also read the story Freaks is based upon and, in my opinion, Tod Browning’s movie version is much better. The acting is very good and Browning’s decision to use people with real deformities gives the movie a ring of truth that casting fake freaks could never have achieved.
But is Freaks a horror movie? Some people would say so. Others would not. The movie certainly contains enough elements of fear for it to be classed as a horror movie, but it’s so much more besides. Freaks forces the viewer to take a closer look at human nature because sometimes the words ‘monster’ and ‘freak’ have more to do with what a person is like inside than their appearance on the outside.
The main character in Freaks is a midget named Hans and he’s a nice, little guy. Hans is very intelligent and quite tough too. In fact, at times, he reminded me of a miniature version of James Cagney because he displays a similar tough-guy attitude when he is riled.
Hans is engaged to fellow midget, Frieda, and they make a lovely couple. Unfortunately, the little guy’s head gets turned by the beautiful, high-flying trapeze artist Cleopatra.
Cleopatra is more than happy to accept Hans’ attention and finds it all quite the joke. She is also equally happy to accept money and gifts from the enamoured little guy. Then when Frieda lets it slip that Hans has inherited quite a lot of money Cleopatra decides that wedding bells are in order, and marries him, all the while planning to murder the little guy with the help of her lover, Hercules the strong-man.
Cleopatra gets her evil plan off to an early start at the wedding feast by slipping some poison into Hans’ drink. Needless to say, he is soon laid up in his sickbed, but the other freaks are well aware of what is going on and they believe in sticking together and taking care of their own. Revenge is called for and, once the wheels are set in motion, even the circus strong man is no match for a gang of angry freaks.
I hope this Freaks review has inspired you to watch the movie. It’s very good. Everyone should try and see it at least once. It isn’t often that words ‘charming’ and ‘horror movie’ can be said in the same breath, but in this case, I think that they can.
Freaks Cast Members
Wallace Ford … Phroso
Leila Hyams … Venus
Olga Baclanova … Cleopatra
Roscoe Ates … Roscoe
Henry Victor … Hercules
Harry Earles … Hans
Daisy Earles … Frieda
Rose Dione … Madame Tetrallini
Daisy Hilton … Siamese Twin
Violet Hilton … Siamese Twin
Schlitze … Himself
Josephine Joseph … Half-Woman, Half Man
Johnny Eck … Half Boy
Frances O’Connor … Armless Girl
Peter Robinson … Human Skeleton
Olga Roderick … Bearded Lady
Koo Koo … Herself
Prince Randian … The Living Torso
Martha Morris … Armless Girl
Elvira Snow … Pinhead (as Zip)
Jenny Lee Snow … Pinhead (as Pip)
Elizabeth Green … Bird Girl
Angelo Rossitto … Angeleno
Edward Brophy … Rollo Brother
Matt McHugh … Rollo Brother
Ernie Adams … Sideshow patron
Jerry Austin … Dwarf throwing knife at Hercules
Louise Beavers … Maid
Sidney Bracey … Hans’ Butler
Albert Conti … Landowner
Tiny Doll … Bit part
Edith … Little Girl crawling on her knees
Delmo Fritz … Sword Swallower
Murray Kinnell … Freakshow Barker
Michael Visaroff … Jean the Caretaker
FREAKS DVD DETAILS
Runtime: 64 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Filmed in black and white