Monday, February 22, 2010

A Classic Moment: "Freaks" (1932)

Viewing the cult films chart today, made me think of how much I love talking about "Freaks." Truly one of the freakiest films ever made, it's unique for so many reasons. In the early 1980s Stephen King wrote in his "Danse Macabre" that many people would talk about "Freaks" but very few of them have actually seen it. A lot has changed since then and in this internet era anyone can see "Freaks" if they so choose. Still, in this part of the world where I live, very few people would even talk about this movie - they have no idea what it is.

A truly unprecedented experiment, "Freaks" lacks outstanding acting and dialogue. But it is a real slash of history. Never again a movie featuring bearded woman, Siamese twins and a man missing all his limbs will be made unless its a documentary telling about their difficult lives.

But while "Freaks" was made in the time where such characters were among common circus attractions (all "freak" actors and extras were circus celebrities of their time), it turned out that audience wasn't at all ready to see them in a cinema - acting in a Hollywood production.

Moreover, the movie was released in 1932, right when the newly adopted Hays Production Code was being put into force - and there was oh so much to censor in the "Freaks." The film was so severely cut that many scenes now look carelessly glued together with no regard to the story. Many sex-related lines and moments were removed, as well as those directly referring to the "normal" but evil circus artists as the true freaks. And the happier ending with the reunion of the midget couple (brother and sister in real life) was also added later - to make the film more appealing.

Yet, all those efforts didn't save the "Freaks." The movie was soon banned in the English speaking world and stayed that way for many years. By the time it was rediscovered, it was pretty much forgotten.

"Freaks" was a daring enterprise. In what turned out to be a career-ending move, Browning chanced to make a horror movie with some genuine, nature-made horror. And he did that in a country where black people were played by the white just some 15 years ago. The fashion for faking prevailed in Hollywood then as it still does. Nowadays, when horror movies are all about graphic violence and fake blood, "Freaks" still looks almost just as ominous as it did 80 years ago. Its just way too non fake.

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