Freak directed by Tod Browning
Not Rated, DVD WB/MGM release
CC, Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Also contains Freaks: Sideshow Cinema, Commentary by David J. Skal
Reviewed by TG Browning
As with all of my reviews, Iíll cut to the chase. Buy this immediately. This is first time Iíve ever given a 5 star rating to anything. In one earlier review, as a matter of fact, I pointed out that about the only books or movies that I would give a 5 star rating to would have to be classics, like Bram Stokerís Dracula or the original movie Dracula with Bela Lugosi. It shouldnít surprise you then that I give a 5 star rating to another film by the director of Dracula, Tod Browning. Itís definitely a classic and one that ranks beside any of the great horror films you care to name.
Itís difficult to estimate just how influential this movie has been over the years. Itís been banned a number of times and shocked audiences so badly that the film was altered. I do know that there have been at least two major nods to the film in recent memory and Iíll get back to that later in the review.
First off, Tod Browning knew the ground he was filming only too well. He had been a sideshow performer at one point in his life, a contortionist, and have many friends in the business. He filled the cast with authentic, working sideshow performers, and indeed, the hero and heroine of the film are ďlittle peopleĒ. The movie highlights the casual brutality with which society has typically treated such people, indeed, has treated anyone who is physically different from the norm. In this, he was years ahead of his time and audiences today probably wonít find anything too upsetting or repellant about the sideshow characters of the movie. Thatís particularly true if one considers that movie and TV audiences are inundated with brutality constantly.
The story goes like this. Hans, a midget, falls for Cleo, a trapeze artist of great beauty. When she learns that Hans is actually very wealthy through an inheritance, she decides to marry the poor guy and murder him for the money. Her partner in this is the sideshow strongman, Hercules, and the rest of the movie more or less follows a predictable pattern, up to a point. I wonít go into the twists that make Freaks memorable and great as movie for obvious reasons. I will go so far as to point out that the movie ending shocked audiences so much when it first came out, that two different endings were tried and used at various times. The atmosphere of the film is tense, remarkably so considering the times, and modern audiences should take to it.
Earlier I mentioned that there had been recent nods to Freaks in a couple of places. There was one episode of The Simpsons where Lisa fears that sheís losing it and going to end up as stupid and clueless as the rest of her family. The nod comes when Bart jumps on the dining room table and begins singing ďYouíre one of us! Youíre one of us! Gobble, Gobble!Ē. Thatís a direct steal from the wedding dinner scene of Freaks.
The second is a bit more subtle and in point of fact, I missed it myself. My wife and youngest daughter watched the film with me and at one point, there is a bizarre and very gritty scene where the ďfreaksĒ are chasing Hercules. Several of them crawl through mud in a rainstorm after him. My daughter immediately thought of a similar scene from the Oscar winning film, Toy Story. If you recall, all of the broken, maimed toys help Woody to save Buzz from Sid, the neighbor kid who is in the process of blowing Buzz up with a rocket. Some of the toys emerge from a sandbox and others from the mud of a rather large mud puddle.
Hilary pointed it out to me and asked if I thought it was just a coincidence and I shook my head. I remembered who had been part of the award winning team that wrote the script for Toy Story, you see. Joss Whedon. If you donít recognize the name, Joss Whedon is the man behind both the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie and series. Whedon must have seen Freaks and I canít buy the idea that itís just a coincidence.
The additional features to the film are excellent as well and give a wealth of detail about the performers and the movie production and are worth the price of the DVD, alone. There is commentary by David Skal, the author of Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, a bestseller well worth reading if you have any interest at all in the SF/F/H genres.
Get this DVD. Youíll be very glad you did.
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