Monday, October 28, 2013

Freaks: The Ultimate Horror Movie

With Halloween quickly approaching, horror movies have been running non-stop on local television channels.  Today, I'll tell you about one that you probably won't see anywhere.  This is an article from "the archives" that originally appeared here back on October 20, 2010. If you missed it the first time around, I hope you'll find it...interesting today... 

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.)

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.

Scene from Dr. Caligari

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!
Bela Lugosi as Dracula

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. 

Director Tod Browning, perhaps thinking, "Maybe I went just a little too far..."

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? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!


Old Kitty said...

Gabba gabba! LOL!! But seriously I ADORE Freaks - another one of my fave fave fave films ever! Thoroughly unique, utterly riveting and ultimately asks who is the real freak? Ahem!! Perfect halloween film! Take care

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi Kitty! I can't believe you've actually seen it! I pulled it up online but could only stomach a few minutes;).

William Kendall said...

I've heard of it, Maria, but I haven't seen it myself.

Maria McKenzie said...

It's pretty hard to watch.

Norma said...

I've heard of it, but I'm not sure I have the stomach for it.

I used to love the Universal movies!

Shelly said...

I've seen Freaks a couple of times on late night tv and was horrifyingly mesmerized. Oh my, oh my!

Maria McKenzie said...

@Norma: I love those old Universla horror movies! But I'm with you on Freaks! A little too much;).

@Shelly: You've actually seen it on TV?! Wow, I didn't know any station would show it!

Unknown said...

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Intangible Hearts said...

It sounds fascinating because of the real freaky folks who performed in the movie. They had difficult lives and Hollywood gave them a few miserable hours of fame. I hope they enjoyed it and were paid for it.

Unknown said...

I just finished watching this film less than an hour ago, and I really enjoyed it! It's a shame that it got the reputation that it did; audiences at the time apparently felt that it was too exploitative, but that was likely to only have been the case because the "freaks" were actually shown and most likely offended the sensibilities of the day. (The film is actually very sympathetic, showing the sideshow performers to be normal people as opposed to the often cruel and selfish able-bodied performers.) Still, at least it has become to be accepted over the years, and has even gone from being banned in the UK to being only rated "12" (the UK equivalent of PG-13).

The film may still be a bit unsettling to those not used to seeing people with severe disabilities, but even they will quickly get used to the film and its cast, who are really no different from modern-day Paralympians (Johnny Eck the "Half-Boy" would have made a wonderful wheelchair athlete or Paralympic alpine skier, had he been alive today) The film itself is also very tame by today's standards; at its worst, it's roughly as scary as some of the darker Disney films. So once you get past the initial shock of seeing the "freaks" (if there is any to begin with) it's a brilliant film - just don't expect much in the way of actual horror! :P