Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Banned for many years and nearly costing him his career, Tod Browning’s (Dracula, bitches!), controversial tale takes place in a traveling circus that boasts a bevy of sideshow performing “freaks” (i.e., real people with tragic medical deformities). Trapeze artist, Cleopatra, and her lunkhead strongman boyfriend, Hercules, conspire to murder wealthy little person, Hans in order to take his fortune. The plan involves having Cleopatra seduce and marry Hans, who has always had a crush on her, and then kill him.
The plan almost works. After marrying Hans, she begins to slowly poison him. However her inability to use discretion foils the scheme when one of the other sideshow performers overhears her discussing dastardly things with Hercules. This doesn’t sit right with the sideshow performers and together they band together to enact some Freak revenge.
Oh what could’ve been! Freaks is terrific until the neutered climax. Apparently Browning’s original cut of the film, which involved among other things Hercules’ castration and the violent mutilation of Cleopatra was too much for 1930s audiences (pussies). As a result, Browning was forced to cut 30 minutes of footage that has never been seen again, which can’t help but impact on your ability to enjoy the only existing version of the film. Still, the “Freaks”, albeit exploited, are fascinating to watch and Browning appears to go out of his way to showcase their ability to function despite serious physical limitations.