Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Freaks: The Ultimate Horror Movie

"Horror movies open the scary frightening world where we are barely in control."
Masterpiece Movie Lines

Freaks is a horror movie from 1932 that not everyone has heard of, and not many have seen. Even by today's standards, it's pretty much over the top, and will probably never be shown as a late night movie--even on cable! (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Halloween is coming and horror movie marathons will be on TV all month long.  Scary movies are nothing new, and  have been around since the silent days starting in 1915 with Golem.  Known as "the first monster movie," Golem was based on the Jewish legend of a solidly built clay man sent to save the ghetto, but once his work is done, he runs wild throughout the village.

Another early classic, considered "the granddaddy of all horror films" is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), which pits an evil doctor against a hero incarcerated in an insane asylum.  By the end of the film, the audience is unsure of who's really mad and who's sane.

1922's Nosferatu is the first vampire movie that basically plagiarized the Dracula story.  This version presents an inhumane bloodsucker and is much more frightening than any of its motion picture predecessors.

The three above mentioned films were made in Europe.  But Universal Studios in Hollywood made its share of horror films starring Lon Chaney, including The Phantom of the Opera (1923) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1925).

But in 1931 Universal pushed the envelope a little further by producing Dracula, based on the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston.  Their work was based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film had no comic relief, nor a  trick ending to lessen the elements of the supernatural, so it was an extremely risky project for a Hollywood studio to undertake. American audiences, they feared, might not be receptive to it.

Because of a major publicity campaign, the film opened to full houses, complete with audience members fainting in shock.  Dracula was a hit!

But just how could Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios jump on the horror movie bandwagon? MGM was the premier studio back in the day, and after the success of Dracula they wanted to create something even "more horrific."

Tod Browning, who'd directed Dracula, was brought to MGM to direct an adaptation of a short story by Tod Robbins called Spurs. The plot is a simple melodrama. A husband finds out his wife wants to kill him so she can run off with his money and her lover. Only this story is set against the backdrop of a circus. The husband is a midget, the wife a Russian acrobat, and her lover, a cruel circus strong man.

The movie was eventually entitled Freaks (remember, there was no political correctness back in the 1930's).  But when conjoined twins, a bearded lady, armless and completely limbless sideshow stars, and many more started arriving on the set, MGM executives started having second thoughts. 

Browning gave each of these performers time on screen to exhibit their unique talents, but when the finished product was screened, the executives were not only shocked, but nauseated by what Browning had filmed. They ordered changes, but even with changes, once released to the public, audiences "freaked out" (sorry, couldn't resist).

The film suffered from so much bad press it had to be pulled from circulation.  Shot in 36 days on a budget of $300,000, it ended up costing Browning his career and caused MGM to lose over $160,000.

To read more about the fate of Freaks and to actually see it, click here:

Have you ever heard of Freaks? Do you think you'll watch it?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!


William Kendall said...

I've heard of it, but never saw it.

My favourite classic supernatural film is The Uninvited, with Ray Milland.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, William. I think I've seen The Univited on AMC. Is that the one where a couple rents or buys an old house on the ocean and strange things begin to happen? That is a good one.

I've never seen Freaks either, and don't think I will. It's just a little too much.

William Kendall said...

Yes, that's the one! Two ghosts haunting the house!

Maria McKenzie said...

I can't remember th whole story, but I'm sure it'll be on at some point this month!