In a modern retelling of Tod Browning's "Freaks" (1932), "Freakshow" tells the story of a group of criminals who chose to hide out by working security at a traveling circus. At first, they ... See full summary »
A circus trapeze artist, Cleopatra, takes an interest in Hans, a midget who works in the circus sideshow. Her interest however is in the money Hans will be inheriting and she is actually carrying on an affair with another circus performer, Hercules. Hans's fiancée does her best to convince him that he is being used but to no avail. At their wedding party, a drunken Cleopatra tells the sideshow freaks just what she thinks of them. Together, the freaks decide to make her one of their own. Written by
MGM head Irving Thalberg hired Tod Browning following the huge success of Dracula (1931). He instructed Browning to try to top Universal's Frankenstein (1931) which was also pulling in huge audiences. Browning was essentially given carte blanche to make whatever he wanted but Thalberg was completely unprepared for what he produced. See more »
In the first shot after the "Wedding Feast" title card, we see Violet Hilton & Daisy Hilton playing soprano saxophones, but we only hear a harmonica being played. See more »
It is ironic how director Tod Browning followed up "Dracula"--a horror film with painterly set design and a distinct atmosphere of unease--with a horror film more grounded in reality. Whereas the sets in "Dracula" were as skillfully rendered as the most elaborate of tapestries, the abstraction of "Freaks" comes from the title characters, who are at once hideous, wonderful, and all too human. Browning doesn't present these characters--who were actual sideshow performers--in an exploitative manner (though the long disclaimer that precedes the film is a definite reflection of his concern), but instead touches on a humility, modesty, and altruism that makes them as capable of expressing joy, sorrow, and vengeance as any 'normal' human being. And that's the overriding moral of "Freaks," wherein busty trapeze artist Cleopatra marries sensitive midget Hans only so she and her lunkheaded, strongman lover can make off with his inheritance. Granted, this plot has since become cliché, but to apply it to sideshow performers who are truly in their element 'under the big top' is something of a masterstroke...as it makes the 'normals' seem that much more out-of-place and unwelcome. (A complaint: as some of the dialog is difficult to decipher, it seems that the sound quality was either poorly recorded at the time or when it was transferred to video.)
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