Freaks (1932)


I have always wanted to see Tod Browning’s 1932 film ‘Freaks’. Not so much that I have felt compelled to seek it out and actually watch it, you understand. We don’t do that kind of thing round these parts. But review them? Do we ever Mister!

Normality is a relative concept. Our sense of what constitutes strangeness is a mere social construction, a figment of a fastidious and limiting ideology. This said, the cast of Freaks are a grotesque litter of horrifying abominations whose silhouettes alone make children cry and small animals die.

The first scene opens upon the spotlit face of ‘The Astounding Robot’s Midwife’. The frame widens to take in his pinstripe waistcoat and inkstained fingers as he lifts a pale rectangular sliver of flopping matter up to a bulky grey lady robot of square dimensions. He lifts the engine’s hat off mechanically and yet tenderly, as if he were removing his sedated wife’s bonnet, and slips the white material beneath it. An unearthly flash! A chthonic whirring! From out of its cold plastic pelvis, the engine gives birth to another new rectangle of whiteness, identical to the first. Yuck! The camera pans round to take in the gawping, gaping audience as they shiver with disgusted delight. “Behold the Ungodly Spawn of the Xerox Demon” the Midwife shouts. From here on in, all of our stickiest impulses are destined to be sated. Our minds will unravel with the breaching of every dark taboo, until all that is left in our skulls is a gourd of beastliness, a quantum of brain poo.

This is Sicko City, ambassador: you’d better stay away from the buffet.

Along with ‘The Astounding Robot’s Midwife’, we are introduced to ‘The Intrepid Hot Black Liquid Swallower’ who imbibes an entire medium-sized Latte before the very eyes of the audience; ‘The Mood-Swing High-Diver’, who takes a death-defying leap from the very heights of happiness to the nadir of depression. We look on and gasp as he gets in a huff half-way through the performance and leaves early, taking his ball with him. Other freaks include: ‘Herman the Penguin-Devouring Eskimo’, who eats at least 4 McVities Penguin chocolate bars every night; ‘The Amazing Brothers’ who, due to an improbable and troubling genetic coincidence, look slightly similar; and, finally, ‘The Human Saxophone’, who suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

The plot of the film is your basic thrust-and-waggle crime riff, topped off with a melodramatic sprig of romantic ringworm. Someone murders ‘The Human Saxophone’ with a cork. The manager of the freakshow, Hubert T. Rockerwallah, hires a private eye to investigate. It transpires that the murderer was his ghastly new wife, Linda. Much weeping and scenery-chewing arises therefrom. After the scenery banquet is over, they all have a round of Rennies to help them digest it.

‘Freaks’ is a new sort of film for our, or rather Herbert Hoover’s times. It is contemporary, it is relevant, it is cutting edge, or rather it would have appeared so in 1932. It points out the future, or rather the past, of cinema. To discerning cinema audiences, ‘Freaks’ will always be like a deeply beloved but hideously grotesque kitten who prompts spontaneous violent vomiting wherever he shuffles his foul furry body.  

As Snoop Doggy Dogg would have said before they hauled him off to the Siberian labour camps: ‘Get your freak on!’


4 Responses to “Freaks (1932)”

  1. oldrope Says:

    When I lived alone I ate 5 Mcvities Penguins a night and 4 Aldi rip-off Puffin bars. Then I would crawl around on the floor trying to make myself sick up their chocolatey goodness for fear of going to fat persons’ hell. With tears streaming down my cheeks and little puddles of bile and brown saliva littering my carpet, I would slug whiskey from the bottle and drink to forget. Troubles is, Whiskey gives me a hankerin’ for Penguins and the whole sorry process was doomed to eternal repetition till my mouth was dried from the alcohol and retching and I had spittle no more. Moving in with me nan and her new lover was the best thing that ever happened to me

    (My nan can’t stand penguins, either the biscuit or the animal, and never allows either in the house)

  2. Banjo Fett Says:

    Finally, a film I have seen! Of course, modern life is still one big freak show, except now we have abasements like ‘Dave Cameron, the cheese-faced man!’ and ‘Haircut tight trouser guy, watch in amazement as he becomes instantly famous for being absolutely talentless!’

    See what I did there.

  3. johnlebaptiste Says:

    I remember Old Rope, it was a dark time for us all, except for me.

    David Cameron does actually have four anuses, so he could undoubtedly be employed by a real freak show. At Eton he was known as ‘The Hub’.

  4. Banjo Fett Says:

    I think the time is ripe for a big-budget Hollywood remake of Freaks, starring Steven Seagal, Tom Cruise, Mickey Rourke, Madonna and Russell Brand. With Lady Gaga as The Be-penised Lady and Jeremy Kyle as the Ringmaster.

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