Freaks (1932)

(On VHS, October 2002) Let’s face it: most movies of 1932 have now blissfully sunk out of popular memory. But this one has endured, even gaining a small cult following in horror circles. Part of the appeal comes from the originality of the premise, even 70 years later: Here, we follow a group of circus freaks, from retarded pinheads to men-babies to a man without a lower torso (think Kenny) and another without arms or legs. Compared to them, the dwarves and bearded lady are positively normal. Keep in mind, though that these are all real freaks, without CGI trickery or faked costumes. Their acting isn’t very good (the squeaky voices of the leads can be hard to understand especially given the low quality of the audio) but the authenticity is enough to give pause (and unease) to any viewer. The thin plot is ridiculously simple, featuring a gold-digging shrew marrying and poisoning the protagonist to inherit his money. The revenge of the freaks is terrible, and indeed the shot of them crawling through the mud toward the evil woman, holding knives, is something that’ll stay with you for a while. But even then, the sympathy of the film rests firmly with the freaks (“Gobble-gobble, we accept you, you’re one of us!”), which -I guess- was a bit of a shocker back. As it turns out, it is this sensibility that ensures that the film can still be watched even decades later. A curio.

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