Sunday, October 23, 2011

Phil's Horror Watch, Day 21: Phil watches FREAKS (1932)-October 21, 2011

Welcome to Day Twenty-One of my horror movie marathon! So for tonight's film, I decided to back to the Pre-Code Hollywood. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, the term refers to the era in  Hollywood between the late 1920's until 1934 when postmaster General William Hays created a set of censorship guidelines for the studios to follow. These guidelines became know as the Motion Picture Production Code (or better known as the Hays Code). However these guidelines were not truly enforced until July 1, 1934. The films that were made before the code was enforced are known as Pre-Code films. Tonight's film fall into this category, and as the result, director Todd Browning's FREAKS has become the most famous Pre-Code film to have ever been made in Hollywood.

Theatrical Movie Poster (1932)
The film is the stuff of legends. Based on the Tod Robbins' 1923 short story SPURS, the film's about a beautiful and self serving circus trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) who agrees to marry Hans (Harry Earles), the leader of the circus' sideshow freaks. However the honeymoon is short lived, as when it becomes known to the freaks that Cleopatra only married Hans to get her hands on his wealthy inheritance, they ban together to punish her for her deceitful lies. The ending of the film shocked audiences back in 1932, and its shock value still holds up to this very day.

With the film, director Browning created autobiographical piece of art. Browning once worked for a circus as a sideshow freak, so the film was sacred to him. As the result, he created a film that was so outrageous and so misunderstood, the studio MGM didn't want to release the film. The studio went so far as to cut the picture down from its original 90-minute running time to just over an hour. Also the studio approached Browning with idea of a "happier ending" for the film. A new prologue and epilogue was filmed for the movie. The film was finally released to theaters on February 20, 1932.And despite all the extensive cuts, audiences still rejected the film.

Controversy surrounded the film even before the film was even released. During one of the many disastrous test screenings, one woman threatened to sue MGM after claiming that watching the film caused her to have a miscarriage. Following the release of the film, Browning had difficulty find work in the business. As a result, his film had destroyed his directing career. However, by the late 1960's, the growing counterculture discovered the film and embraced it, appearing at midnight screenings across America. In 1994, the Library of Congress added the film to its list of preservation in the Nation Film Registry.

FREAKS is a landmark film, a true and honest piece of work that projected the director's vision and his plea of understanding and acceptance. Now, 79 years after the film's original release, it seems like society has finally accepted Browning's artistic masterpiece.

FREAKS is currently available on DVD. To purchase a copy for yourself, visit your local retailer or checkout the Amazon website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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