Unrated, 1 hr. 4 min. Directed By: Tod Browning. Release Date: Feb 20, 1932. DVD Release Date: Aug 10, 2004.
I’m not sure what I expected when I sat down to watch Freaks: certainly, I expected the eponymous men and women that used to be a part of circus and carnival life. I realized belatedly that in the 30s, this probably would have scared the hell out of its audience, and not just because of some of the people in the movie had real deformities, but because of the whole, you know, murder bit. That aspect of the movie didn’t hold up so well with the passing of time, and once I realized that Hans in this movie also represented the Lollipop Guild, I’m not sure that this movie ever stood a ghost of a chance.
Now, there’s plenty about this movie that gave me the heebie jeebies. Unfortunately, mostly those heebie jeebies came from the assorted freaks and I was concerned that this movie was intended as exploitation. They certainly played up the reaction the audience would already have, and in the movie’s opening scenes, the differences between the freaks and the handful of “normal” people are marked.
It took me a little time to realize that as painful as it was to watch some of these poor people (and know that they were real people and not actors wearing makeup or using special effects to make themselves seem “other”), I realized that they weren’t the real horrors. Watching Cleo and Hercules plot the murder of someone I initially thought was a child with a throat disorder was the real problem. They were the real monsters, and the folks that attracted my attention so easily were the distraction. I got suckered in to it like just about everyone else who has watched Freaks.
But the movie has some problems for me: I had a hard time understanding nearly everyone in the cast. Some had thick accents, some speech impediments, and some communicated with pseudo-speech. It was an echo of English, but you had to work to get through it. I also thought the story could have been a little stronger. It was too much like someone had just passed their first English composition class and was aching to try out the steps of the story line for their very own. The filmmakers here get props for doing something a little different, but different doesn’t always make up for problems in structure.