Freaks ★★★★

A startlingly brave film for the time it was made in, Freaks is a genuinely empathetic story that still retains its power today. Quite who the real monsters are becomes clearer the more we are taken into the world of these circus performers. The horror arrives not from those who appear different from the 'norm' but those who cannot accept them.

There are moments of course where Tod Browning verges on exploiting the very same people he is trying to humanise. Some scenes are clearly set up as a spectacle, such as the man without limbs lighting his own cigarette or the rush to the bearded lady's tent to see her newborn. Yet by not filming their performances in the circus tent Browning reminds his no doubt shocked audience that life is just as normal for them.

Two love stories are taking place either side of the main drama. The slow building of Venus and Phroso's relationship is the more traditional of the two whilst Hans and Frieda experience a similar up and down experience. There is a level playing field of human emotion that shatters the illusion of the time that they were sub-human because of their looks. The general public had probably only seen less able bodied people like this performing for them and had no idea how to react to such normality.

A big part of capturing that sense of reality comes from using genuine circus acts. Despite the acting never being any better than passable it rarely seems to matter or impact onto the films poignancy. The theatrical style in which Cleopatra and Hercules play to the balcony is a real example of this, although perhaps it is because of their environment that it never feels too out of place.

The moments that scared the audiences of the time have long since subsided which have allowed Browning's true intentions to shine through. Even the final scene which no doubt caused many a medical issue in cinema's upon its release, has far more of a comedic tone to it. Even though it has been cut down to just over an hour, Freaks manges to achieve more in that time than countless multi-million dollar blockbusters have managed to.

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