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Sunday, 27 May 2012


Let’s talk about Todd Browning’s 1932 movie Freaks  – Ψ – Billed as the scariest horror film ever the film was banned in the UK for 35 years and ended Todd Browning’s career. Following this movie Browning found it difficult to get work and although he made several movies following Freaks he never managed to live down the stigma of being the man who unleashed this sickness into the cinema world.  After the initial test screening one woman threatened to sue to studio, claiming that the movie had made her suffer a miscarriage, and another woman who gave birth to conjoined twins a year later claimed that it was the evil influence of the movie that was responsible.

Now that’s one scary movie.

you know what I’m not really sure that Feaks is a horror movie at all, but rather a drama with a cast made up largely of real life circus freaks, and even after all these years it is still a troubling movie. The title itself, when used in this context, falls foul of political correctness and the chances are that if the movie were ever to be remade it would be called something like, – Incredible gifted and special people.

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.

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