Wednesday, October 29, 2008
31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 Movie 2
"Freaks" (1932) is a very simple movie about a beautiful trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) taking advantage of Hans, a midget (Harry Earles) with a crush on her to swindle him out of his fortune. Hans may be blind to the way she's using him, but the other circus folk are not, especially the freaks who view a slight against one of them as a slight against them all, and they're not about to let the trapeze artist, or her strongman lover (Henry Victor) get away with it.
This movie's been controversial since it was made for featuring real sideshow performers as the freaks; pinheads, a human torso, a half-boy, a human skeleton, siamese twins and others. Often viewed as exploitive, it's clear that director Tod Browning had a real affinity for his unusual performers and they are treated in not simply a sympathetic light, but as real human beings, no different from the rest of us except for an accident of birth.
This movie is much stronger than "Dracula," Browning's feature the previous year. That said, it's probably better viewed with the subtitles on as many of the characters speak with very heavy European accents and some of the sideshow performers are almost impossible to understand period. Some feel this movie would have been better as a silent film, primarily for that reason, but I disagree. Title cards would have taken care of the accent problems, and probably have enhanced the horror, but would have distanced the viewer from the ordinary humanity of the performers, making the film truly exploitive and making the sideshow performers into the freaks that Browning was trying to show they were not.