'Todd Browning's Freaks' Review: Gooble Gobble Gooble Gobble
Freaks wouldn't fly today, like at all. Namely because even when given the chance the cast someone who is actually a minority, they cast someone who is white. There is no chance taking in Hollywood anymore for fear of offending someone, often that someone being a ambiguous, non-existent entity. The fact that in the 1930s Tod Browning made a film like Freaks is astounding; its daring, disturbing, and somehow touching. Freaks wouldn't be able to be remade, no matter how hard Michael Bay might try to.
It all hinges on the performers who are real sideshow performers. There are numerous pinheads, dwarfs, midgets, "the living torso", and "half boy". For this reason alone would not be made today. If Tod Browning walked into the Weinstein Company today and pitched a movie about real sideshow performers disfiguring a blonde Scarlett Johanson type he'd be laughed out of the building. He'd be told in no uncertain terms to come back with a real idea.
Hollywood of today doesn't take the risks that it once did. Freaks is a really fucked up movie. Its fucked up because it almost feels exploitative, "almost" being the key term. No one forced the sideshow actors to be in the film, they did it by their own accord. Even with that in mind it still feels like the freaks are being put on display for the amusement of the audience. What saves it from truly feeling exploitative is that the sideshow performers are the truly sympathetic figures in the film.
The "freaks" are really amazing though. It takes some balls to agree to play yourself in a horror film about slighted sideshow performers. The true standout of the film is the "half boy" who is exactly that: a man from the waist up. The way he moves in the film seems almost unrealistic since he is balancing on arms at all times. His upper arm strength must be fucking ridiculous because at the climax of the film he runs at full tilt chasing a character. It's unsettling but mesmerizing at the same time.
Mostly though the one thing that stands out in the film is the non sequitur scene that involves what can only be described as a head attached to a potato sack lighting a cigar. The "living torso" has a cigar in his mouth and takes a match, also in his mouth, and strikes it on the matchbox to light it up. There are few scenes that exist in cinema that are as weird but endearing at the same time. These freaks are like us but not.
Along with the cigar scene, the scene the movie is known best for is the wedding celebration scene. As the freaks sit around a table rejoicing in the marriage of one of their own to a normal human they break out into a chant. "Gooble gobble gooble gobble we will make you one of us" they chant as they pass a large glass of wine around the table each taking sips. It's a hint of foreshadowing as well just being bizarre and catchy. The chant goes on for a minute getting more unsettling as time goes on. It's a great scene but one that is really strange in the context of 1930s cinema.
The normal humans however couldn't be any worse represented.The villains of the film are normal people trying to take advantage of the freaks. Cleopatra and Hercules are the conniving couple looking to steal the inheritance of Hans, the dwarf. They are true shitbag characters laughing at the freaks at every chance they have and making a mockery of their general being. It wasn't hard to want to see either of them get what was coming to them in the worst way. The contrast between humans and "freaks" is so stark that highlights the sympathetic aspect of the freaks ten fold.
The twist ending also is straight up cuckoo bananas as well. The freaks, some crawling or shimmying in the rain and mud with knives in their mouths, chase down Cleopatra. Cleopatra gets turned into what can only be described as a human duck. Her legs are cut off and her lower half is permanently tarred and feather. As well, she seems to have had something thrown on her beautiful face to melt it so that she is no longer beautiful. She also honks like a duck, apparently becoming mentally retarded along with physically deformed. Its disturbing in the best way and it seemingly influenced many future directors as well. Kevin Smith might not have sewn Justin Long into a walrus suit if it hadn't have been for Browning creating a human duck monster. Body horror is a great sub genre of horror and the earliest roots seem to come from Freaks.
Freaks isn't really a great film technically but it has a charm to it that can't be ignored. The cast of sideshow performers are believable and likable even when committing their heinous final act. Because of the cast the film has become a "cult classic" in the lexicon of classic horror films thought it isn't as well known as the Universal classic monsters. That scene alone is worth watching the film for but the novelty of the film wears off quickly. If seeing sideshow performers do random things and mutilate humans is your thing then Freaks might be what your looking for.
Final Say: Watch It
Who Said What?
All the Freaks: "Gooble Gobble Gooble Gobble we will make you one of us..."