Now that’s one scary movie.
The thing that bothered audiences so much was not the storyline, which is basically a revenge story of a lover scorned, but the fact that a large section of the cast were made up of real life circus freaks. Among the real life freaks were Elizabeth Green, also known as Betty Green, a performer who was presented to audiences as a human stork during the early 1900s, Jane Barnell (3 January 1871, – 26 October 1951, )a US bearded lady who used the stage name Lady Olga, Daisy and Violet Hilton (5 February 1908 – January 1969) a pair of conjoined twins who toured in the US in the 1930s, Josephine Joseph (born 1913) a woman whose body was supposedly split down the middle,
one side female and the other male, Prince Rardion (1871 – December 19, 1934), a famous limbless performer of the early 1900s, John Eckhardt, Jr. (27 August 1911,– 5 January 1991, ), freak show performer born with the appearance that he was missing the lower half of his torso and Peter Robinson a man who weighed in at only 58 pounds and billed himself as The Human Skeleton.
Over time though the film has taken on the status of an underground classic, but it still lacks any mainstream appeal. If anything watching the movie now is even more disturbing than to the original viewers. That’s because we have a different mindset to audiences of this period, and it should not be forgotten that when this movie was made many of the freaks were performing and making a fortune in sideshows across America, several of them even worked for Barnum and Baily. The film has the reputation of being one of the masterpieces of baroque cinema. It has been more written about than watched. Yet the tramps’ last supper in Bunuel’s Viridiana was said to have been inspired by it, and Max Ophuls, Fellini, Bergman and a host of horror merchants have inserted clips from Freaks into their films. And in 1994 Freaks was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry’s archive.
It’s well worth seeing and the current DVD issue features an interesting commentary from Davis J Skal, the original prologue shown in cinemas, three alternative endings and a documentary. Pretty much essential viewing really, but beware this film still packs a punch and even the most ardent horror fan will find it terrifying.