October 4, 2007

Freaks (Browning, 1932)

"Can a full grown woman truly love a MIDGET?"

Though its power to shock and repulse (it was banned in the U.K. for 30 years) has no doubt waned significantly over the 75 years since its release, Tod Browning’s Freaks, one of the pillars of American horror cinema, remains a seminal genre text. It’s a shame that Browning’s film, saddled with one of cinema’s most enduring reputations, continues to be remembered predominantly for its shock value, for it is a film of considerable depth and surprising modernity.

Contrary to conventional opinion, Freaks is exceptional not for its shock value (though its climax remains horrifying), but rather for the economical sprawl of Browning’s direction (though it runs a scant 62 minutes, behind the veneer of its genre storyline, Freaks reveals itself as a condensed tableaux of circus life, intermingling many separate lives) and for its deeply felt pathos. A tragic chronicle of misplaced love, betrayal and revenge, it is quite an affecting experience.

Perhaps the true value of revisiting Browning’s notorious tale is the opportunity to approach such an established film (and the established critical notions that come with it) with fresh eyes, to perceive it with a fresh mind, and to see what many audiences have failed to see.

Film Rating: A
Scare Factor: C+

View Date: 10/3
Shocktober Horror Film Count: #4

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