Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

"Worth a look for those with interested in the history of exploitation cinema."

Beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra marries midget Hans, conspiring with her strongman lover Hercules to poison Hans and steal his money. But their scheme is uncovered and the community of freaks extracts a terrible - if justified - revenge on the two normals.

Freaks is one of the most infamous films in cinema history. Apparently conceived as the "ultimate horror picture" by its director, one that would outdo Frankenstein, its use of genuine abnormalities and deformities proved too much for audiences. Karloff's make-up job was one thing, "human torso" Randian, "half man" Johnny Eck, Siamese twins and pinheads quite another.

Copy picture

Thus in the US the film was quickly withdrawn by its distributor, MGM, before resurfacing on the exploitation circuit in the late 40s, while in the UK the film was banned outright for more than 30 years.

Some credit Freaks with all but ending Tod Browning's career. Others argue they neglect his achololism or the fact that he was at his best in the silent years working with Lon Chaney, and that Dracula - though a big hit - was stagey, static and featured a finely cured performance from Bela Lugosi.

Whatever the controversies, there's no disputing Freaks is a challenging film. Unfortunately, much of this is for the wrong reasons, as stilted dialogue and awkward performances only enhance the awkwardness inherent in watching those "who are not as others" switch from victims to victimisers.

Freaks is worth a look for those with interested in the history of exploitation cinema or the trash/punk aesthetic of the likes of John Waters, but others will probably find it unpleasant and heavy going.

Ramones fans probably already know that the band's "gabba gabba hey" chant was based on a mishearing of the chant of the freaks, but it's worth mentioning anyway.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2001
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Freaks packshot
Infamous exploitation shocker with real-life barnyard oddities.
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Director: Tod Browning

Writer: Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon, Edgar Allan Woolf, Al Boasberg, based on the story Spurs by Tod Robbins

Starring: Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles, Daisy Earles, Prince Randian, Johnny Eck, Roscoe Ates, Angelo Rossito, Daisy Hilton, Violet Hilton, Zip, Pip, Elvira Snow, Jennie Lee Snow, Schlitzie, Pete Robinson, Henry Victor

Year: 1932

Runtime: 64 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


EIFF 2001

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