Monday, April 26, 2010

My Year in Disturbing Film: Week 17 - Freaks

My year in disturbing film is my weekly column where I devote a few paragraphs to the most fucked up films ever made. Each week I plan on subjecting myself to the most horrific and mentally damaging imagery my mind can handle. I can't promise you this won't be the week I wind up in the hospital...

HERE is a reminder about my rating system for these films

Hmmm so what torment is in store for me this week...

 Todd Browning’s Freaks

What is the movie about?

The film focuses on the story of a group of circus freaks and how they take revenge on a “normal” for doing wrong by one of their own. “Freaks” is more specifically about Hans, the “Tom Thumb” of the circus sideshow and the gold digger Cleopatra who’s ruining his life. But this all begs the question…

Hans, in happier times

Is the film disturbing?

Looking at Freaks by today’s standards it’s a laughable example of horror, but thinking about when this film came out it was groundbreaking in its depiction of taboo subject matter. Browning’s use of real human anomalies as the titular freaks was unheard of at the time. What’s even better is just how great of a job they did portraying the issues they had to face on a daily basis and the mockery they were forced to suffer.

We're a happy family, me mom and dad

A good chunk of the film deals with their personal hardships of the main group of freaks. The group consists of; several pinheads, a human torso, a group of dwarves (what do they call that, a gaggle?), a he/she, a man missing both arms and legs, people with no arms, a bearded lady (who’s pregnant nonetheless), a stutterer and a set of Siamese twins. That gives you a pretty good idea of the size of the group one would have to contend with if they were to attack you!

If I knew a guy who could shave without the aid of arms, I'd NEVER fuck with him!

Hans is engaged to Frieda, but he has an eye for Cleo (short for Cleopatra, a regular sized acrobat in the circus). Cleo is using Hans to get nice things. Hans has fruits imported from France for her, he buys her jewelry and gets her fancy champagne. Needless to say this upsets Frieda and let’s face it, you’d be pissed if some Jezebel were pushin in on your turf. There’s a B storyline involving a girl named Venus who leaves her boyfriend (circus strongman named Hercules) and winds up with the main clown Phroso. Venus and Phroso represent the “normals” that can handle being around the “freaks” and treat them with the respect they deserve. Phroso especially seems to have a connection with the freaks that’s quite admirable.


Cleo, while suckering Hans out of his money, is seeing Herc behind Hans’ back Everyone other than Hans seems to Know what’s going on. Cleo convinces Hans to marry her after she discovers where Hans is getting his money from (he inherited a HUGE fortune) and thinks it best if she does away with her new pint sized groom. She starts the poisoning regimen the night of their wedding, but plays it off initially like she’s the one who saved his life. She then slowly starts poisoning him again using the medicine he’s supposed to be using to administer the new poison. It’s a damn good thing Hans has got some good friends because they see what she’s doing and let him in on the deal before he really does start pushing up the daisies. Those of you who have never seen Freaks have most assuredly heard at least audio from the wedding night scene. It’s the, made famous by the Ramones “one of us, one of us” scene (gooble gobble).


The freaks make plans to deal with that bitch Cleo and on one fateful stormy night they deal with her good (and Herc too). They never explain what happens with her, but they give you a peek on what became of her. Maybe I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. Freaks is a compelling film and is short enough that you should never have to look at your watch one. Even by today’s standards it’s a really well made film and frankly it’s significantly bolder than much of the tripe coming out these days. I do, however, have to admit it fails to remain nearly as disturbing as it maybe once was, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a near perfe4ctly made film that’s a delight to watch even after so many years.

5 out of 5

Disturbitude: 3, sure there’s some shock to see real life circus freaks, but it shouldn’t be more than a passing shock

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