The Horror Honeys: “We accept you, one of us! Gooble gobble gooble gobble!”

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble gobble gooble gobble!”

A Revenge Honey Review

Freaks (1932)

In 1932, Universal horror maestro Tod Browning directed a tale about a circus trapeze artist who discovers that a little person performing in the circus sideshow has a hefty inheritance awaiting him, and the cruel lengths she would go to get the money for herself. The most groundbreaking aspect of this film, is that rather than hire actors to play members of the sideshow, Browning approached the staff of the Barnum & Bailey Freak Show to act as the performers in his film, Freaks. Upon the movie’s release, all hell broke loose.

Apparently, in 1932, in America, Europe (banned in the UK), and Australia, the general public was content to pretend that people like those in the B&B “Freakshow” didn’t exist unless they were safely ensconced inside of a carnival tent. When the film came out, filmgoers were less concerned about the film’s message and more so about their blissful ignorance to the reality of birth defects. For the most part, Tod Browning’s Freaks was hidden from public view for the better part of thirty years. This was a huge shame, because Freaks is unequivocally one of the best revenge horror films ever committed to celluloid.

The basic premise of Freaks is that as Hans, the little person with the sizable inheritance, progresses further into his relationship with Cleopatra, the rest of his sideshow family become aware that things are not what they seem. You see, Cleo is having an affair with the circus strongman Hercules and together, they intend to poison Hans and steal his money after his death. And while the sideshow performers intended to make Cleopatra a part of their family through marriage, her entry into the “Freakshow” won’t be quite so welcoming once she harms one of their own.

The further you get into Tod Browning’s film, the more you realize that the members of the sideshow aren’t the so-called freaks; the real freaks are Cleopatra and Hercules, who choose to take advantage of the sweet and loving nature of carnival’s sideshow family. This was clearly Browning’s point all along: it doesn’t matter what society labels you. It’s the people who are cruel and greedy and vicious that are a society’s real monsters.

Where does the revenge come in, you may be wondering? I’m glad you asked: because Freaks features one of the greatest revenge scenes in the history of horror cinema! After the sideshow performers finally discover that Cleopatra and Hercules have been poisoning poor Hans, they make good on their promise to bring Cleo into their fold. The film’s original parting shot (before a happy ending was also added) is of a legless, tongue-less, one-eyed Cleopatra, clucking around a box in her very own sideshow attraction like a human chicken. She is now among the ranks of the very people she once so despised, and well, sucks to be her!

(A fun fact – the original cut of the film featured an additional concluding scene of Hercules singing soprano in the sideshow, implying the performers had castrated him. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with a good slice-and-dice testicle whacking when it comes to revenge, but apparently the 1932 audiences didn’t think that was kosher either. Go figure!)

Freaks is by far one of my favorite revenge films because not only would you NEVER see a movie like this made today, but it accomplishes something that almost no other movie since ever has: it took a real life group of people who had been totally marginalized by society and made them badass motherfucking heroes. Good on Tod Browning for bravely defying convention and giving these people a voice, even if it was a voice no one wanted to hear in the 30s.

Revenge Honey Stabby Points: 5 out of 5