Much has been said over the years about Tod Browning’s FREAKS thanks largely in part to easy access to the film on the Internet and its standing as a public domain motion picture. By now, chances are if you’re a “horror” flick fan, you’ve probably seen and read about as much about FREAKS as any reasonable person would care to, but allow me to, hopefully, dissect this borderline masterpiece from an angle you may not have. If you have already though, fuck it, indulge me.
Right from the get go, we are assailed with a moving wall of text setting up why this film will never be able to be made again (which is true, this had to be made at a certain time for any chance at authenticity) and some mentions of a “code” that exists among the carny folk, among other things. THIS is where I find FREAKS has the absolute most to offer anyone who watches it in todays morally bankrupt and culturally suicidal society. For those that don’t know, the main arc examined through FREAKS is that of a couple (A Strongman performer type and a Trapeze broad who happens to be French if the accent was deciphered correctly by yours truly) that is plotting to get the lady in the couple to marry the roaming carnival promoter and then kill him in order to inherit the fortunes he apparently has coming to him. Of course, our savvy band of deformed oddities and lovable monsters is a step ahead of the nefarious duo and their shady plan and, by the end of the film, kill the man (or at least we are led to believe that they killed him since we never see him again after he is stuck in the ribs with a knife and descended upon by a dozen or so blade wielding freaks crawling underneath a carriage in the middle of a terribly stormy night) and disfigure the trapeze artiste almost beyond recognition making her “one of them.”
This is where I usually get to fist pumping and celebrating the no nonsense attitude these people took when dealing with folks who would seek to take advantage of them and, in the end, murder one of their own. Nowadays, if someone marries into money, people applaud the move, or they get a reality tv show, or they are thought of as clever and smart and the most resentment you will get from the general public is jealousy instead complete and utter disgust. The forces that control our media and institutions have engineered a climate where everyone is a potential enemy to the millions that is so rightfully yours and if ONLY you could get those sandbagging motherfuckers out of the picture, you would have less competition in your way and could realize your dream of being better than everyone else, consequences be damned. But the FREAKS survive by travelling and working together to entertain audiences and use the curses that have been so unfairly bestowed upon them as a tool for something not unlike success. They may be laugh at, teased, and ridiculed, but they have your attention and some of your cash, and they have done it by embracing what they and piquing your curiosity and allowing you to explore those emotions for a nominal fee. Everyone wins and in a symbiotic and subconscious way, everyone takes care of everyone else. What the fuck is better than that?