Reclusive, and eccentric director Tod Browning is known by the most-inner circle of old horror film fans as the director of such cult classics as Mark of the Vampire, The Unholy Three, The Unknown, and London After Midnight (the infamous lost Lon Chaney film). But it is without question he is best known to the world as the director of one of the top 20 most iconic films in history, Dracula, as well as the film in question, that of which is Freaks. - Possibly even more for Freaks. Dracula is much more recognized, but he didn't put much effort in it, and Lugosi is discussed much more than any one else. In Freaks Tod Browning is almost considered the star. - I'm not going to go much into the history of the making of the film or the history of the people involved. If I did I'm sure it would be the size of a short book, and if you want that you can find it at a library written by someone with better writing skills and knowledge (David Skal for example). I am simply going to write about the film in general and how it has affected me.
So, where to begin? Well, first off I think I should state the obvious: the acting is beyond atrocious, the dialogue is abysmal, the last scene is unbelievably stupid, and the storyline is not that great...but, for some reason, and I'm still not completely sure why, I was completely taken by this film, ever since the first time I saw it in the summer of 2008.
This is what makes Freaks so peculiar to me. I can not very well discuss the normal filmmaking elements that make up almost all other films I enjoy, but yet it has this essence that makes it so I can not dismiss it, or even dislike it. Its one of those movies that stays with you for days and days, you can't get it out of your head, and it's not just the climax of the army of freaks attacking the acrobat and Hercules, it's all the scenes leading up to it as well.
You want to talk about a movie that feels dated, Freaks is possibly the most dated film ever. Not that its a bad thing, sometimes being dated makes some movies suffer, but there are movies like Back to the Future and It's a Wonderful Life, that make the time period they are based in work forever. In fact, this could be one of the reasons I like it, probably a very big reason. We see these people with the physical diseases that are now easily cured, and as it says in the opening "There will never again be a film like this for the rest of history" and that's very true, we are looking at diseases that no longer exist and we are looking at a traveling sideshow which is also extremely rare today. Not too mention it would NEVER be green-lit by any major studio. So, watching the 60 minutes that make up Freaks makes me feel almost like I'm a spectator at a 1930's Freak Show, hearing the circus music in the background. The circus and sideshow aspect is also something I like about Freaks. There's not too many movies were the setting is behind the scenes of a traveling sideshow, actually I'm pretty sure Freaks is the only movie with that distinction.
So, underneath the very thin romance story that is at the immediate surface of the film, Freaks is undoubtedly original. And in its own way, even with the G-rated dialogue and almost entirely harmless presence, it is pretty disturbing. Yes, I guess it's disturbing in its exploitation - which, I think isn't as exploitative as people are made to believe - but it's also disturbing in its unintentional surrealist nature (at least I think it's unintentional). All the characters talk in a weird manner (mostly because they couldn't act) everyone is cheerful and casual about the extremely weird environment they're in, and the timing, cinematography, and editing is all done at a pace that is simply dreamlike.
All in all, I consider what I just wrote to be an excerpt of the thoughts I want to write down about Freaks, because as I've tried to explain, I like this movie substantially for reasons almost unknown to even myself, but my scattered thoughts on the film are just there to help me better explain to myself exactly why that is.