Jonny T here with another instalment of “Memories of”. This time I shall be talking about another one of my all-time top 5 films Todd Browning’s Classic Freaks.
My first introduction to Freaks was thanks to a neighbour of ours that lived on the same street, his name was Lloyd he was a policeman and a huge film fan, He had a collection of horror movie books which when I used to go around and he babysat me and spend hours going through all the books
He had a vast array of movie books ranging from Hammer Horror to classic Hollywood horror, I remember the book to this day, the cover had the classic shadow image from Nosferatu slowly creeping up the stairs, upon opening the book you were greeted by the double page image from The Cabinet of DR Calagari, I was hooked.
The book started with focusing on the classic silent era onto the William Castle movies of the 50’s, so half way through I came across Freaks, The images were of the “Pinheads sat around the table, the bird lady and the guy who had no limbs but could roll cigarettes with his mouth and fathered many children and the film that effectively ended Todd Browning’s career, I don’t know what it was but it was a section of the book that I came back to time and time again.
I asked Lloyd about all the films in the book and he told me of great stories of him and his dad going to see many of the movies but had only managed to see Freaks once before it was banned, Now this was the time of Video Nasties in the UK and I was perplexed to why it had been banned in the UK for near on 30 years as well as many other countries, I learned that it was because it was seen as been exploitative to the so called disadvantaged which I found quit amazing seeing as films like The Wizard of Oz was heralded as a classic with the cute Munchkins a major part of the film, still baffles me to this day!
Now the basic outline of Freaks is that they are a travelling circus which attraction includes A bearded lady, Siamese Twins, The world’s strongest man and the half man played by the legendary Johnny Eck.
And it tells the tale of an evil as you could call able bodied lady who tries to persuade one of the midgets that she is madly in love with him knowing all the time that he is very wealthy and plots with another circus member to fool him into falling in love the killing him and taking all his money, bitch! So the story pans out wherein she treats them all like shit, they all get wind of her plan and decide to take revenge, SPOILER ALERT Her plot backfires when on a cold dark rainy night the exact revenge on her by slicing her up and transforming her into a bird lady that we see at the end of the film and she has now become the main attraction of Freaks, The scene in the night when the attack has to be in my opinion one of the best most creepiest scenes in horror history, we see them all emerging from under caravans whilst the rain buckets down, light by lighting and covered in mud the emerge from the darkness carrying blades ready to take revenge for what she has done to one of their own.
So in saying that, I still can’t see why it was seen as exploitative, obviously the attitude in the 1930’s was different from today but when you watch the film it’s only the so called able bodied lady that ends up being the stupid one and the togetherness of the so called Freaks as a real close knot community real shines through, not only their attitude towards each other but the attitude to outsiders whom they try and be nice to and welcome with open arms but unfortunately it is those people that are the exploiters and revenge is handed out only when it was necessary. A true classic.
Now I eventually got to see it when Lloyd informed one day a good few years later when UK TV station Channel 4 were doing a season of The Banned where the showed Freaks as well as the likes of A Clockwork Orange and Texas Chainsaw massacre as part of the season, all the titles were now no longer banned but heralded as the should be as classics. So I remember it was on around 10pm and from the very 1st frame until the last I was transfixed, loved it. It eventually led to it getting a UK Video release which I brought and now on the restored DVD, It also lead to me buying a book called Very Special People in which many of the actors in Freaks are featured, their life stories are told and it gives the movie an even more fascinating edge, Stories such as I mentioned and the likes of Johnny Eck going on to have a long and great Career, sadly the same was not to be for Todd Browning. The film has gained a huge following over the years and is still referenced to this day as well as influential I music with lots of bands using the imagery non more so then The Ramones back in the day with the song Pinhead and what become their trademark “Gabba Gabba Hey!”
You can View the whole movie below which i have found on YOU TUBE, It's not the best print out there but certainly worth a watch.
So on summing up if you have yet to do so as yet I can’t recommend this highly enough, Not just for the fact that it is a truly great movie but all the back stories about it being banned and the fate of the director and the actors being shunned by the great HOLLYWOOD, Shame on you!
10/10 a true classic
Thanks for reading
Freaks - Full Movie
The classic "REVENGE" scene
Some intersting reading on Wikipedia
The page of Shlitze Surtees - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schlitzie
The page of Daisy and Violet Hilton - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisy_and_Violet_Hilton
The page of Prince Randion - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Randian
The page of Johnny Eck - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Eck
The page of Jane Barnell - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_Roderick