The Freaks Come Out at Night
Tod Browning, Dracula, and Freaks
Tod Browning was a young director specializing in horror and the macabre. His most famous work is the 1931 horror classic Dracula. The film led to other Universal Studio monsters like Frankenstein and the Wolfman. It also inspired the vampire phenomenon still popular today. The film is an enormous success that gave Browning the green light to create his most infamous work, Freaks.
The image of Bela Lugosi and wire hanging bats don’t affect viewers like they once did. We are a generation desensitized by Saw, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and others gory films. This is not the case with Freaks. The cult classic’s ending is listed at number 15 on BRAVO’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. That’s incredible for an 86 year old film.
The film begins with a disclaimer: “In ancient times, anything that deviated from the normal was considered an omen of ill luck or representative of evil.” Many “normal” characters and audiences were appalled by the deformities of the unique cast. In a scene where the “freaks” dance as happy children, the film shows a man saying, “They’re not children, they’re monsters.” That seems to be the thought of many.
However, Browning tries to show their humanity. He does not exploit them as the sideshow does. There is beauty in their differences. It is hard not to care for these characters. The “representative evil” that we see comes more from the “normals.” The exception is the character Phroso. He goes out of his way to show kindness to the unique performers. In many ways, he is Browning’s doppelganger. The director spent his younger years working with the circus. He sees the sideshow performers for what they are: human.
The scenes that are shocking to audiences include the pinheads and the half-boy dancing in a merry circle. Prince Radian the human torso (lighting a cigarette without arms or legs). The armless girl is drinking wine by holding the glass with her feet as she is courted by a little person. Today, we would not bat an eye at these scenes. However, the images of the deformed actors shocked and disgusted the average viewer. It led to the banning of the film. In the UK the film was banned for 30-years. The studio even removed their logo from the film.
The Unique Cast
- Daisy and Violet Hilton as Siamese Twins
- Prince Randian as the Living Torso
- Peter Robinson as a Human Skeleton
- Olga Roderick as a Bearded Lady
- Josephine Joseph as a Half Woman-Half Man
- Johnny Eck as a Half Boy
- Frances O’Connor as an Armless Girl
- Peter Robinson as a Human Skeleton
- Martha Morris as Angeleno’s armless wife
- Elvira Snow as Pinhead Pip
- Jenny Lee Snow as Pinhead Zip
- Elizabeth Green as Bird Girl
- Delmo Fritz as the Sword Swallower][2}
The so-called disturbing images led to the studio making several cuts before its release, and Sadly, Universal lost the removed footage. A couple of the scenes reportedly lost include Violet (one of the Siamese twins) reading a book when her twin sister receives a kiss. Violet reacts as she feels her sisters passion. Another includes the armless girl (Frances O’Connor) showing how she does everyday tasks with her feet. As you can see, the cutscenes are mild by today’s standards. The exception is a human castration, removed from the ending sequence.
Freaks is more than a horror film. It is a morality play. A black comedy and a melodrama. The plot is about the wrong love, betrayal, and revenge. The diminutive owner of the circus is a little person. He falls in love with the beautiful “normal” trapeze artist. They are soon married. Will the Freaks let her be one of their own? Is her love genuine? What causes the desire for revenge? What is the scary ending?
Today I find the ending more creepy than frightening. However, when I saw it as a child, it got to me. It scared me. It is a fantastic scene that you won’t forget. I love the film. I suggest you find a dark rainy day, a bag of Lays and 64 minutes to watch a true cult classic.
Notes that No One Cares About
- The Hilton Sisters (Siamese Twins) lived the last years of their lives closed to my house. A crooked promoter abandoned them. A sympathetic grocer gave them a job in his grocery store’s deli. They are buried here in Charlotte, N.C.
- Being an amputee, I have a real soft spot for the so-called “Freaks.”
1^ Production0 Scariest Movie Moments, Film Spectrum http://thefilmspectrum.com/?page_id=7124
2^ Freaks 1932 Complete Cast, IMDB