Film Review: Freaks (1932)

Also known as: The Monster Show (working title), Forbidden Love, Nature’s Mistakes (informal titles)
Release Date: February 12th, 1932 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon
Based on: Spurs by Tod Robbins
Cast: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates

Loew’s Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 64 Minutes

Review:

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!” – Freaks

Freaks was a pretty controversial film when it came out, even though by today’s standards, it’s incredibly tame. But the movie features a cast of actual carnival “freaks” and people with other handicaps and deformities. It was even outright banned in the UK for decades.

I like this movie quite a bit, though. It’s something that I watched with my granmum as a kid, as she was pretty into old school horror. I think this film also sort of developed my love of carnivals and “freak shows” when I was still a kid.

For being a movie with a lot of mostly inexperienced non-actors, this is surprisingly well acted for the era. The regular actors are all pretty decent but the “freaks” themselves really stepped up to the plate and gave genuine feeling performances too.

The story is about a gold digger, who tries to trick a rich dwarf into marriage so that she can kill him and take his money. Over the course of the film, the “freaks” decide to accept her and the situation, however, she loses her shit when they are celebrating their acceptance of her.

Ultimately, she’s got a big f’n mouth and the “freaks” become privy to her sinister plot, which ends very, very poorly for her. So poorly, in fact, that I’m not going to spoil the shock ending for those who haven’t seen this.

This is a really short film at just 64 minutes but it also tells a perfectly paced story that didn’t need more time and used the time it did have very effectively.

The director, Tod Browning, had worked in horror before and actually did multiple movies with silent horror master Lon Chaney, Sr. He transitioned well into a “talkie” picture and also made something that was as visually compelling as his previous gems.

Freaks is a much better movie than people might expect. I mean, it’s barely horror, compared to what we consider horror today, but it still has one really terrifying and disturbing moment that makes up for what some might consider a lack of horror.

Rating: 7/10