Freaks

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Freaks is a 1932 American Pre-Code horror film about sideshow performers, directed and produced by Tod Browning and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with a cast mostly composed of actual carnival (funfair) performers. The film was based on Tod Robbins' 1923 short story "Spurs". Director Browning took the exceptional step of casting real people with deformities as the eponymous sideshow "freaks," rather than using costumes and makeup.

Browning had been a member of a traveling circus in his early years, and much of the film was drawn from his personal experiences. In the film, the physically deformed "freaks" are inherently trusting and honorable people, while the real monsters are two of the "normal" members of the circus who conspire to murder one of the performers to obtain his large inheritance.

Contents

Plot

The central story is of a self-serving trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), who seduces and eventually marries a sideshow midget, Hans (Harry Earles), after learning of his large inheritance. At their wedding reception, the other "freaks" resolve that they will accept Cleopatra in spite of her being a "normal" outsider, and hold an initiation ceremony, wherein they pass a massive goblet of wine around the table while chanting, "We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble!" The ceremony frightens the drunken Cleopatra, who accidentally reveals that she has been having an affair with Hercules (Henry Victor), the strong man; she mocks the freaks, tosses the wine in their faces, and drives them away. Despite being humiliated, Hans remains with Cleopatra.

Shortly thereafter, Hans is taken ill (supposedly from having too much to drink at the wedding feast, but actually from poison that Cleopatra slipped into his wine) and Cleopatra begins slipping poison into Hans' medicine to kill him so that she can inherit his money and run away with Hercules. One of the circus performers, named Venus (Leila Hyams), overhears Cleopatra talking to Hercules about the murder plot and tells the other freaks, including Hans. In the film's climax, the freaks attack Cleopatra and Hercules with guns, knives, and various sharp-edged weapons, hideously mutilating them during a bad storm. Though Hercules is never seen again, the original ending of the film had the freaks castrating him; the audience sees him later singing in falsetto. The film concludes with a revelation of Cleopatra's fate: she herself has been turned into a freak. The reason is not given, but the barker speculates that it could have been the storm or the revenge of the circus freaks; she has been reduced to performing in a sideshow as the squawking "human duck". The flesh of her hands has been melted and deformed to look like duck feet and her lower half has been permanently tarred and feathered.

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