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Treachery is discovered amongst a traveling circus sideshow. Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 09/13/2005 Starring: Wallace Ford Roscoe Ates Run time: 62 minutes Rating: Nr Director: Tod Browning

Tod Browning, who directed Bela Lugosi in the original Dracula, stepped into even eerier territory with this 1932 story of betrayal and retribution in the circus. Evil trapeze artist Olga Baclanova seduces and marries a midget in the circus sideshow, hoping to inherit his wealth. But in doing so, she has crossed the wrong folks: the tightly knit group of nature's aberrations, who stick together like family--and who set out to avenge their little pal. Browning brought in some of the most famous sideshow attractions of the era, include Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton and Johnny Eck the Legless Boy, as well as Zip and Pip, microcephalics whose appearance in this film inspired cartoonist Bill Griffith to create his comic strip, "Zippy the Pinhead." So disturbing that it was banned for 30 years in Great Britain. --Marshall Fine

Customer Reviews:

  • Beyond Belief - 1932
    When you consider that this film, actually a type of
    "historical documentation" of the world of human anomalies (Freaks of the sideshow), was made in 1932, it's a 5-Star on the single merit that someone had the guts to commit the images to film. - That "someone" being Tod Browning, the producer, (of "Dracula" fame). When you view it, you won't wonder why it was banned for many years - you'll know!.

    It is impossible to look away when you see the "pinheads", the "half-man", the "living torso", and all the sideshow attractions as they were. The scene around the "marriage table", is only trumped by the scene when the freaks converge on Hercules - and perhaps the "Trump Card" is the fate of the beautiful trapeze artist, and her introduction to the Freak's world - A fate she juslty deserves.

    It is no wonder why this extraordinary film was selected to the National Film Registry's archive of cinematic treasures. ...more info
  • Raising the Tent on the Life of The Sideshow
    A 1932 film directed by Tod Browning, who had major success with the film Dracula. He wanted to top Frankenstein. You can judge if he succeeded or not. This film was considered controversial and was banned in Britain for many years. It might today even be considered shocking to some because of the use of real sideshow performers as actors. Tod took a major risk when he made this film and I thank him for that, for its rare to find such a gem like this in the history of cinema.

    This is a tale of false love and revenge. A story about a beautiful woman who tries to con a midget and poison him for his money...but ends up very sorry for her actions. Her and her partner seem to think its funny to make fun of all the ''freaks'', until she goes too far one night at dinner then the Freaks later discover her ulterior motives against ''one of their own kind'' and she ends up paying the ultimate price.

    We get to know all of the Freaks quite well. We are introduced to Violet & Daisy Hilton, a pair of siamese twins, 2 brother and sister who are midgets, human skeletons, armless girl, a man with no arms or legs yet he can roll a cigarette with his mouth and many more interesting characters. The scene you will most likely never forget is when the freaks turn against the woman at the end and the storm chase scene.

    This is not an exploitation film. Browning treats them with great compassion. It presents them in human terms. He knew how to do that, he at one point, during his teenage years ran away to join the circus and got to know many of the people. Now they will be remembered forever in the history of cinema.

    The special features on the DVD are fascinating.
    The Film contains commentary by David J. Skal, Author of Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre.
    All-New Documentary Freaks: Sideshow Cinema where we learn all about the actors and people behind the movie.
    Special Message Prologue added for Theatrical Reissue
    3 Alternate Endings.

    I have to say is this film stands the test of time and even after 70 years this film is quite effective.
    Highly Recommended. 4.5 Stars

    ...more info
  • One of a kind Movie
    This is probably one of my top five favorite movies of all time.

    It has as much story as you want to get out of it. If you just want to watch this movie to see something odd, it's here. If you want to watch this for an original story that can change the way you think, it's here. If you just like old scary flicks, that's also here....more info
  • Gooba gobba gooba gobba-we accept her-one of us!
    In the era of Bella Lagosi and Lon Chaney with all the make up and horror
    Tod Browning takes a shot at a movie using real life freaks and side show actors.
    I think the public was not ready for that kind of viewing so it was shunned for many years....until now.
    the movies plot is nothing spectacular but remember this is early film and they were still experimenting.
    the show has to do with circus performers behind the scenes socially, the freaks stick together to retaliate against a kiniving acrobatist and strong man who try to take advantage of a rich dwarf who is smitten by the beautiful acrobat.
    the Freaks prevail.

    I heard of this movie finding out that the Ramones were really big on this movie as far as certain topics go such as Pinheads and such their anthem was "gabba gabba hey, gabba gabba we aceppt you one of us"

    I gave this show 5 stars based on the viewing of the freaks and the whole concept of trying something that has never been done and still hasn't.

    I give the movie and its plot 3 stars but it is early cinema...more info
  • What's the difference?
    Can someone please tell me what is the difference between this version and the other version of Freaks. I have notice that there are two different covers. ...more info
  • gabba gabba we except you one of us one of us
    a sureal chilling horror masterpiece created by tod browning. this movie is so above its time it was banned in many countrys...more info
  • FReaKs
    The film, being older, has a different style than anything you see today. There isn't a deep storyline. But if you're into absurd twisted sexual circus turmoil (and old movies) then you might want to watch this. Equipped with midgets and pinheads-this one has it all...more info
  • Brilliant and Daring Cinematic Masterpiece
    In the early 1930s, Hollywood had discovered the monster movie and the monster movie was all the rage. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and many other monsters like them were huge at the box office. At the time, Tod Browning was a hugely successful silent film director who had a major film hit with DRACULA. Browning had been trying for several years to adapt a short story, Tod Robbins' "Spurs", into a feature film with Lon Chaney scheduled to appear. However, it took the success of DRACULA before Browning was finally given the go.

    FREAKS was a huge success at it's initial screening in San Diego, but the movie was so unusual for its time (instead of fictional monsters the film was filled with real-life human oddities) that many found it squeamish and frightening and the studio pulled the film and had it re-edited. The movie found some critical success and was very popular in some cities, but overall the film was critically panned. Critics and many viewers found the sideshow setting of the film, with Siamese twins, armless women, pinheads, bearded ladies, dwarves, and a limbless man to be just too unnatural. It was banned in many cities across the U.S. as well as in Britain and Australia and MGM pulled the film from circulation. Fueled by a spirit of rebellion, the movie had a renaissance in the 1960s which continued for over thirty years until the film being added to the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board in 1994.

    The basic plot of the film revolves around the dwarf Hans (Harry Earles) and his serious infatuation for a regular-sized female trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). Hans is engaged to a female dwarf, Frieda (Daisy Earles--Harry's sister in real life), but when Cleo joins their circus, he becomes obsessed with her beauty. Cleo encourages Hans' advances, but really just thinks of him as a toy to play with, even making fun of him with other "normal" people at the circus behind his back. Cleo's real lover is the strong man Hercules (Henry Victor), who makes his living lousing upon wealthy women. Though Cleo isn't rich, Hans treats her like a queen and when she learns that Hans has inherited a fortune she and Hercules plan a way to get all of Hans' money. She marries Hans with the intention of slowly poisoning him over time until he dies. But the "freaks" at the circus learn of Cleo and Hercules' plan and set into motion a plan of revenge of their very own.

    At the time of its initial release, many people found FREAKS horrifying because of the human oddities. Some would argue that we are now too desensitized by all the graphic and horrifying things we've been exposed to over the past two generations to find the film as frightening as it once must have seen. I would like to think it's more because we've become more sensitive and compassionate about all people (of course, a movie like FREAKS would never get made today). Whatever the case, the unusual people in FREAKS aren't disturbing and shocking. With our modern lens, audiences can see beyond the "freaks" and see them as the people they really were (as they movie says, "They are all God's children) and see the movie for the excellent film it is.

    The official DVD version includes an audio commentary with film historian David Skal, an almost hour-long "making-of" featurette, and alternative endings to the movie (however, the original ending of the movie that shows what happens to Hercules seems to have been lost forever). I really enjoyed all of the special features. They are filled with all kinds of information about the movie, the performers, and the history of cinema....more info
  • As a film, all things considered...
    It's fantastic. There were no "special" effects and makeup back when this was filmed. These are real people, and alas, considered freaks, too. The storyline is a classic "evil woman/good kind man", and a predictable ending, but it is one of my all time favorites, (and I pretty much don't like movies,) just because of the cast and the era it was filmed in....more info
    WHAT MAKES THIS FILM ORIGINAL IS THE CAST OF PERFROMERS WHICH STAR IN THE FILM! The story is quite simple and the cast is a cast of humans, all with disabilities! This movie, just like circus side-shows, were a way of making a living for these people!!
    This is a classic film that everyone should see st some point in their lives!!...more info
  • Most Disturbing
    Easily one the most disturbing and frightening films ever made. A must for any horror buff and a must for any film enthusiast! ...more info
  • A very interesting early film
    Due to my slow descent into not caring for human life in films, I found myself able to watch Freaks as a drama and wasn't shocked at all that the actors were mostly sideshow freaks. I found the film to be a touching tale in the life of circus actors and how cruel some peeople can be to others that are differeent then themeselves. Freaks has a great story that rivals many films of today (like thats tough to do). Overall highly recommended and if you haven't been desensitized like myself you might be slightly shocked by the film as well....more info
  • Freaks
    Even people jaded by the extreme "realism" of the 21st century will be shocked by this one. I don't think any mainstream film maker today would have the guts to film this without some sort of political or socially correct manipulation. The story itself is rather pedestrian - opportunistic beauty takes advantage of besotted midget, and runs afoul of his friends. The action takes place in an old time circus, complete with the freaks that are no longer de riguer. The shocker is that few special effects are used, and the freaks are played by themselves. The result is a film with less of the 30s Hollywood melodrama, and a more realistic portrait of people who are physically different - some tragically disfigured. I found the experience moving and harrowing at the same time. ...more info
  • Wooden Film with a Stupid Gimmick
    Freaks is considered a cult classic, and for reasons I can't entirely fathom. Freaks, when stripping away the actual freaks, is a poorly acted, poorly shot, and extremely boring. The plot rarely transcends the depth of a soap opera. As a film, it's subpar. It it weren't for the freaks, this would be even more wooden and wouldn't even pass for a movie, just a lame love story. The Freaks are pretty much a gimmick for a boring, cliched movie about a lady secudes a man for his fortune. And if this film is shocking to you because of the Freaks, I also recommend taking up knitting.

    While I still find the film boring and poorly made, I think the initial shock and message of the movie is clear, although it's a message that a movie does not need go preaching around in a movie. Come on, we already know it! It shows that Freaks are real people. And while the ending may be unjustifyable to some people, I think it's great to see the Freaks standing up to the bullies and getting revenge. It shows that the Freaks are real people and stick together. I don't know, but in the end, the Freaks deservely come out smelling like a rose, while the greedy, evil Cleopatro gets her maker in the end.

    Freaks, though, while it has a message, it isn't worth a full sitting, it's long and pointless, and watching the freaks in real time is the only thing that this movie offers. And since you don't get much of their amazing abilities on screen, this film has absolutely nothing else to offer. Ignore the hype and pass on Freaks.

    D+...more info
  • freaky baby freaky
    this is a great classic one of a kind. i have always heard of this movie but have never seen it. till just a few weeks ago fantastic a must see the only thing more wierd than this is bob p....more info
  • Everybody should see this film!!!!
    Outstanding film. It is a crime that it was ever banned. Another film like this will never be made because we have been conditioned to feel "sorry" for "freaks". And as you know, the real "freaks" were the criminals out to hurt them. I loved this movie because I think it really showed them with a sense of normalcy....more info
  • The unforgettable masterpiece...
    I first rented the DVD because of the "cult" status it holds. After watching it repeatedly over a single weekend, I had to own it. It's almost 75 years old now, so keep that in mind when watching it- how many of today's Oscar winner movies will be remembered in 75 years? All the more interesting was the hysteria that surrounded it, its banning from Europe for decades, and that it virtually ended the careers of those who produced it.

    The story and some of acting are rather mundane, but the movie grips you and you can't turn away. You'll find yourself siding with the "Freaks" as they take on the abuse and prejudices that have changed very little in all this time. The actors with disabilities are so totally engrossing that you wonder why we are all so afraid of the "different." Of special interest for me are Daisy and Harry Earles, also known as part the Doll Family. Born in Germany, they were siblings from a family of 7 children, of which four were Little People who formed the "Doll Family. Daisy was billed the "Midget May West" for her adorable screen persona and looks. Harry was one of the "Lollipop Guild" trio from the Wizard of Oz, and the other three Dolls were in it as well.

    The movies has some rough edges, and yes, the accents are sometimes hard to understand. But the DVD has subtitles in English, which you can turn on briefly if you just can't make out a line. The Special Features section has some great background on the production that you should not miss.

    Watch this masterpiece and you will never forget it or the magical people that made it what it is....more info
  • Gooba Gobba, Gooba Gobba...
    Aren't the best shock pictures, from "The Sadist" to "Saw", based on scenarios that, just perhaps, could actually happen? No zombies or vampires, just very sociopathic, very *human* monsters. "Freaks" fits neatly into that catagory, all the while flipping it on its head entirely. You see, the freaks in this film aren't the ones who appear outwardly horrific, but rather the ones whose outward beauty hides their true hideousness. Conniving trapeze artist Cleopatra seduces dwarf Hans, then poisons him after marraige to inherit his fortune. Hans wises to whats going on, and the sideshow ensemble enact a terrible vengeance against Cleo and her strongman lover Hercules. Too bad the cut footage has all been lost. "Freaks" remains delightfully disturbing more than seventy three years after it's premiere, a living testament to director Tod Browning's skill at creating genuinely chilling movies without the gore of modern films. This is absolutely essential viewing for any fan of "unusual" cinema. This version includes both alternate endings, an informative commentary track by a film historian who sounds like he knows what he's talking about, and a one hour documentary on the real life "freaks" who appear in the movie. Now, if only "The Unholy 3" would see DVD release,,,...more info
  • A Classic Cult-Classic
    Just what is it that makes a film a `cult-classic'? Why is it that a film such as "Frankenstein" can be declared a `classic,' while at the same time its, admittedly dissimilar, sequel "The Bride of Frankenstein" will forever be relegated to `cult-classic' status? The term `cult' suggests a limited but devoted fan base, but I believe that the term goes beyond this definition, if only for the reason that many cult-classics are decidedly more popular than several films decreed as classics (see Frankenstein example). Ultimately, the categorization of `cult-classic' is one of genre, dictating less the popularity of a film than certain aesthetic and narrative characteristics. Classic films are typically perceived as highly polished, rigidly acted studio affairs, whereas the cult film could be described as the slightly disturbed, often rough and unruly, step-sibling of the `classic' film. Cult-classics are usually strikingly amateur in quality, often poorly filmed on bad stock, hosting a cast of unknown actors, and driven by unusual plots and campy humour. It is often the amateurish quality of the film that is, whether intended or not, ultimately the appeal. Often the `cult-classic' is a film we enjoy at, rather than with, if you get my meaning.

    "Freaks" is without a doubt a `cult-classic.' Its plot is unlike anything you would see in an `A' picture, its actors far from the usual Hollywood fare, and its technical achievements of a decidedly low grade. And yet the film is unabashed in its intentions and ultimately highly enjoyable in a good many ways. The movie is about a traveling circus and the troupe of `freaks' that are exhibited as its side-show attraction. These `freaks' are the stars of the film, and consist of people born with various abnormalities and deformities that today would be more likely politely ignored than gawked at. The story consists of one of the `normal' members of the circus, the acrobat Cleopatra, pretending to court and fall in love with one of the `freaks,' a little person named Hans, in order to gouge him for money. Cleopatra eventually marries Hans, upon learning of a secret fortune in his possession, but proceeds to spill the beans of her plot on their wedding night, and consequently incurs the wrath of Han's fellow freaks.

    The plot is not especially important and the first half of the film has honestly little to offer, aside from the display of the film's unique cast of characters. It is the latter portion of the film, wherein the freaks turn dark and menacing, that earns the film its cult-classic status. As to whether this segment is empowering, in the way director Tod Browning has his `freaks' rise up against their truly deformed oppressors, or exploitative, in its use of physically deformed people as creatures of horror, I have no answer. Once crossed, however, the exploited yet content freaks of the first half of the film turn into night-stalkers and shadowed foes worthy of any horror film. The cinematography takes on a new force at this point also, providing shots of the `freaks' creeping through rain-soaked darkness, exacting vengeance, that are among the most chilling I have seen. Again the `correctness' of this segment will pray on the minds of many viewers I am sure, but with that put aside (although a complete dismissal may not be appropriate) one can both route for and fear these pitied men, these `freaks,' who despite their own misfortunes in life have still a way to defend their own and to exact revenge against those who mock and abuse them.

    One thing that makes a cult-classic often so great is its complete lack of desire to be a classic. Films such as "Freaks" were never made to win Oscars, or even particularly large audiences, but they were made with the intention of shocking or disturbing the living hell out of the audiences they could find. And the best among them, the true cult-classics, of which "Freaks" is surely an example, continue to disturb, shock, and ultimately delight a similar minority of viewers to this day.
    ...more info
  • Zombos Closet Review
    What were Todd Browning and MGM thinking when they made this film? Browning definitely wanted to shock and unsettle his audience, and MGM wanted a horror film that would rival his earlier Dracula success; but what both eventually achieved was an exploitation styled B-Movie with flashes of brilliance that has entertained, insulted, and disgusted its audiences since its first showing in 1932.

    Beware...spoilers ahead.......................................

    The story of Hans (played by Harry Earles), and his futile infatuation with the considerably taller Cleopatra (played by Olga Baclanova), set against the backdrop of the sideshow and its singular denizens, still manages to make one ill at ease upon viewing; perhaps due in large part to the participation of those real-life freaks that Browning included in his film: Prince Randian, the Living Torso; Pete Robinson, the Living Skeleton; Olga Roderick, the Bearded Lady; Martha Morris, the Armless Wonder; Joseph/Josephine, the Half-Man, Half-Woman; the Pinheads; the Hilton Sisters; Johnny Eck, The Half-Boy; Angello Rossitto (you may recall him from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome); and other performers whose countenances were well off the bell curve average. While Browning was indeed heading down a much less traveled cinematic road, with films like The Unholy Three and The Unknown, his penchant for the unconventional hit its zenith in Freaks.

    Taking Tod Robbins' story, Spurs, Browning (who had already used Robbins' novel The Unholy Three to critical and financial success), weaves a tale of intended murder and revenge that is visually stronger, and climactically more horrific than the original source material. Adding a sexual overtone that would undoubtedly offend just about everyone in his "normal" audience of the day, and portraying his performers as initially harmless people with dramatic life-altering physical characteristics, then turning them into demonic angels of vengeance when mistreated, he achieves a story and a mood that brings most viewers to an uncomfortable place they would rather avoid.

    The wedding scene is one of the highlights of the film. David J Skal has noted that this particular scene was shot by Browning using his silent film experience (his best work was done in silent films), and indeed, it is prefaced with a title card announcing The Wedding Feast. It is a pivotal point in the film, as Cleopatra humiliates Hans and all of his friends, thereby sealing her doom. Close-ups of the freaks enjoying the festivities is juxtaposed with Hans' growing realization that he has made a mistake as Cleopatra becomes more drunkenly brazen with Hercules, the sideshow's strongman, whom she has been seeing behind Hans' back. As Hans sits, humiliated and heart-broken, the freaks begin chanting "gooble, gobble, gooble, gobble, we accept her, we accept her, one of us." Angelo Rossitto jumps on the table and passes around a large goblet filled with wine, so that each of the freaks can sip from it. Cleopatra, alerted by Hercules as to what is transpiring, looks in horror as the cup comes closer and closer, eventually recoiling as the cup is held up to her. She takes the cup, but instead of sipping from it, yells "No... dirty...slimy freaks!" and tosses the wine into Rossitto's face. In his book, The Monster Show, Skal notes that the wedding feast was heavily censored, and one interesting element that would have intensified Cleopatra's horror at drinking from the communal goblet was removed: as the cup is being passed around, some freaks dribble into it.

    Foreshadowing the horror to come, Browning uses close-ups of Rossitto furtively peering into Hans' wagon, watching Cleopatra slowly poisoning him, and again as his scowling face peers into Hercules' wagon to see her and Hercules conspiring against Hans. What follows is one of horror cinema's more memorable series of scenes.

    As Tetrollini's Traveling Circus prepares to get under way during a dark and stormy night, we see Johnny Eck scampering beneath the wagons. As lightning and thunder play in the background, the camera follows him as he makes his way to the group of performers patiently waiting, away from prying eyes, for their moment of reckoning.

    Now under way, we cut to Hans' wagon, rolling along in the muddy road, where his friends watch as Cleopatra once again prepares her poisonous medication. Only this time, Hans confronts her, asking for the bottle of poison. His friends quietly pull out weapons and casually clean them, indicating their sinister intent. Cleopatra is understandably alarmed, and the spoon of poison drops from her fingers.

    We now cut to mighty Hercules, who is also having a bad night. A knife is thrown by one of the little people, and slides into Hercules' side, bringing him down to the muddy road, where he is relentlessly pursued by a swarm of freaks crawling through the mud and rain, brandishing knives. The scene is nightmarish and stands out as one of the most horrific visuals in horror cinema.

    As for Cleopatra, her wagon overturns and she briefly escapes the little monsters by running into the nearby woods. We see her screaming one last time as they close in on her. After her scream we cut to the sideshow where she appears as one of the freak attractions. Leaving how she arrived there up to the audience's imagination....more info
  • To Laugh or Not To Laugh...
    I can't believe most people haven't seen this great film! Circus midget Hans is a normal guy inside (which includes falling in love with a woman out of his league). The "normal" trapeze lady & the strong man are not normal on the inside(they don't mind poisoning Hans to get his money). Hans' friends, a chorus of actual circus freaks, come to his rescue. They are immortalized by great photography in this film (a la Diane Arbus). Best thing of all: double edged (even sick)humor in the film lets us know that these poor folks can laugh at themselves!...more info
  • A Tod Browning Classic!
    It is hard to believe that this film was produced by THE prestige studio in Hollywood and shot on their lot, using their personnel, and their illustrious name. In 1931, MGM's head of production, Irving Thalberg, decided to take on the overwhelming success of competing studio Universal, and their success with such horror films as Dracula and Frankenstein, and create his own niche in that genre. Drawing on a Tod Robbins novel called Spurs, screenwriter Willis Goldbeck created a world even more self-contained than that of Grand Hotel, the warped world of Freaks, the garish world of the circus sideshow, replete with bearded lady, vain acrobats, simpering pinheads, even a hermaphrodite. Thalberg's reaction to the script was: "Well, I asked for something horrifying." The film was shot in 36 days on the Culver City lot, using the same director from Dracula, Tod Browning, with real freaks brought in to populate this bizarre world. When the freaks were given the run of the lot and the MGM commissary, even the most hardened showbiz veterans were shocked! Upon its release in 1932, the film received so much bad press and created such ill will that MGM was forced to withdraw the release from circulation and suffered a loss of approximately $164,000 in Depression-era money. This pre-Code film was a misfire in judgment for the studio, who had the film pulled from distribution for the next 17 years, when it was then picked up by an independent New York distributor for a four-wall campaign in 1949....more info