WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A traveling circus that features regular performers (trapeze artist, strongman, clown) and freaks (bearded lady, half-man/half-woman, midgets, Courtney Love, Siamese twins, microcephalics) is put under the microscope in this 1932 horror flick from the director of the original DRACULA. This backstage story involves a gold-digging trapeze artist named Cleo and her partner in crime Hercules (the strongman) attempting to poison her new midget husband (Hans) so she can collect on his fortune. What they fail to realize is that if you fuck with one freak, you fuck with ‘em all...
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Brrrrrrrrrr! This is one of the most original, oddest and most disturbing films you’ll most likely ever see in your lifetime. I know, you’re probably thinking that any film that was made that long ago, in black & white and that’s only 62 minutes long hasn’t a prayer of spooking you, right? Well, trust me, it’ll get the job done! What makes the threat of these seemingly mild-mannered freaks so real is that Browning cast actual sideshow pros to appear in the movie. This is, of course, before the days of fancy special effects, so when you see the dimwitted pinheads and the partially (and completely!) limbless freaks gathered around a table chanting to the newly married Cleo & Hans: “We accept you, gooble, gobble, one of us, one of us!” you can truly understand why she flips out and starts wailing at the disturbing sight that’s unfolding before her eyes.
It’s no surprise why this film is a cult favorite all around the world. Every single minute from the movie serves a purpose; whether it’s to show how these freaks go on about their daily activities (which is fascinating, by the way) or to illustrate the sacred kinship and code they all live by, Browning makes every piece of dialogue and every frame count. My only beef with it would be the poor sound quality that takes a little getting used to at first. The real payoff of FREAKS is in the end; when this circle of “nature’s mistakes” band together during a torrential rainfall to take revenge on all of the abuse, disrespect and plotting that had taken place against them earlier in the film. It’s those last few images (especially Cleo’s fate) that will stay with you long after you’ve watched the movie. FREAKS has got the horror, the moral message, the chilling real-life freaks, the humor and even the romance - so you’re really missing out on a wild ride if you don’t invest an hour of your time to this masterpiece.
Audio Commentary by David J. Skal: Skal is the author of “Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood’s Master of the Macabre.” Skal is a pro on everything “Browning” so if you’re eager to learn about the man’s career, particularly FREAKS, than listen to this track and be blown away by all the information he lays out. Skal also elaborates greatly on both the freaks and “normals” histories in the film. You’ll find out where they came from and, for the most part, what happened to them after this film. For instance, he explains why the “turtle girl” (with flipper hands and feet) had so little screen time in the movie. The commentary track basically answers many of the questions that you might have immediately after viewing the film. A great addition!
Special Message Prologue Added for Theatrical Reissue: This is a textual prologue that plays before the film begins and establishes the history and the code of the “sideshow freaks” featured in the movie. This probably would’ve softened the blow a bit had it been part of the original film’s release. It’s pretty cheesy, but has a bit of heart in it too.
All-New Documentary – Freaks: Sideshow Cinema (1 h. 3 min.): Film historian David Skal, along with veteran sideshow performers, little people and other experts on the film, take you on an A to Z ride of everything “FREAKS.” Some things were obviously repeated from the commentary track, but overall, this is another crucial and exciting extra for fans of the film. I loved hearing the true, real life stories of the human torso and the creepy pinheads. Brrrrrr! In fact, they give you a real extensive background on all of the performers– very fascinating stuff. This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping they’d cover in this. An extremely entertaining and informative documentary.
3 Alternate Endings: Skal appears and presents all three of the alternate cuts, which aren’t really that different from each other (or the original ending), but are still worth taking a look at anyway.
First of all, this is worth buying for the cool cover box alone. I’d suggest you rent FREAKS first and see how you react to it, but the probable result will be you buying it for the sole purpose of lending it to your friends so they can be a witness to all the weird and extraordinary happenings in the film. The rich extras are just the icing on the cake. I’m glad I own it, but I just know those bizarre pinheads will be popping up in my dreams from now on. I absolutely loved this movie and chances are...you will too.