Cult Classics: FREAKS (1932)

“Can a full grown woman truly love a midget?” asks the tagline on Todd Browning’s 1932 bizarre film “FREAKS”; enough to spark curiosity in the viewer “Freaks” is most likely the most exploitive, and oddest film out there and most definitely would have been at the time of its release. The plot centres on Hans (Played by Harry Earles), a circus midget who falls in love with who he considers to be “the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen”; Cleopatra (Played by Olga Baclanova) a trapeze artist who’s a part of their shared circus community. There are several glimpses of the every day lives of these “circus freaks” depicted. Today, “Freaks” remains a cult classic, following its banning in the UK, 30 years after its initial release.

Thought-provoking and startling its unlike anything seen before, igniting all kinds of questions surrounding humanity and society. At the same time the film also displays moments of humour. The tone throughout while viewing “Freaks” in 2011 feels melancholy and depressing, to the extent that it will stay with the viewer for a long time after watching it and invokes questions of how society treats people who perhaps don’t fit the “norm”. It was interesting to see these people living life in their own community’s in a natural form without the influence of the outside world. In a sense the fact Cleopatra exploits Hans as well as the others members of the circus implies that she is considered the biggest “Freak” of the film as she is in the minority and carries a small-minded view about the people around her. Her character is completely vicious therefore at the pivotal moment of the climax, it is satisfying seeing her just desserts at the hands of the “Freaks”. The most disturbing image on a personal level was where it is revealed what state Cleopatra ended up in; this was due to the unexpectedness of the scene, the assumption and tactic that was expected was the idea of implication rather than a reveal; in this instance the method Browning approached the scene with made it far more effective.

It has been stated that the themes in “Freaks” could hold influence from the grand-guignol; through the grim tone of the piece, and notions of revenge and tragedy. Definitely unusual, uncomfortable and hard to place in terms of genre as perhaps deeming it a “horror” would be disrespectful to an extent; “Freaks” is a powerful, moving, extraordinary piece of film that you won’t be able to take your eyes off or forget in a long time.


Hayley Alice Roberts.

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