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Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates, Harry Earles ... see more see more... , Henry Victor , Daisy Earles , Rose Dione , Daisy Hilton , Violet Hilton , Matt McHugh , Ernie S. Adams , Elvira Snow , Josephine-Joseph , Frank O'Connor , Randian , Schlitzie , Jennie Lee Snow , Michael Visaroff , Zip , Johnny Eck , Peter Robinson , Olga Roderick , Martha Morris , Elizabeth Green , Angelo Rossitto , Louise Beavers , Albert Conti , Tom London , Edward S. Brophy , Rosco Ates

The genesis of MGM's Freaks was a magazine piece by Ted Robbins titled Spurs. The story involved a terrible revenge enacted by a mean-spirited circus midget upon his normal-sized wife. In adapting Spu... read more read for the screen, writers Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon, Edgar Allan Wolf, and Al Boasberg retained the circus setting and the little man-big woman wedding, all the while de-vilifying the midget and transforming the woman into the true "heavy" of the piece. German "little person" Harry Earles plays Hans, who falls in love with long-legged trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). Discovering that Hans is heir to a fortune, Cleopatra inveigles him into a marriage, all the while planning to bump off her new husband and run away with brutish strongman Hercules (Henry Victor). What she doesn't reckon with is the code of honor among circus freaks: "offend one, offend them all." What set this film apart from director Tod Browning's earlier efforts was the fact that genuine circus and carnival sideshow performers were cast as the freaks: Harry Earles and his equally diminutive sister Daisy, Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, legless Johnny Eck, armless-legless Randian (who rolls cigarettes with his teeth), androgynous Josephine-Joseph, "pinheads" Schlitzie, Elvira, Jennie Lee Snow, and so on. Upon its initial release, Freaks was greeted with such revulsion from movie-house audiences that MGM spent the next 30 years distancing themselves as far from the project as possible. For many years available only in a truncated reissue version titled Nature's Mistakes, Freaks was eventually restored to its original release print. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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89% liked it

23,319 ratings


93% liked it

45 critics

Unrated, 1 hr. 4 min.

Directed by: Tod Browning

Release Date: February 20, 1932

Keywords: horror

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DVD Release Date: August 10, 2004

Stats: 1,968 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (1,968)

  • March 2, 2013
    Classic horror director Tod Browning's Freaks is a benchmark horror picture that has been praised for being a truly unique horror film. The controversy around this is quite legendary and before its release got cut significantly in an attempt to censor its content. Director Tod Br... read moreowning used real sideshow performers with real deformities as a basis for his cast. In turn, Freaks has an authentic feel to it that if you really think about is quite horrifying and ultimately unsettling. This is a well executed picture that was banned and vilified and it ended the career of a promising director who's most famous work was Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. With every horror film that has been released since, it's hard to think that Freaks caused such astir upon release. If you love classic horror films, then give this one a shot. By today's standards it's a fairly harmless movie, but for horror fans that want to watch a classic piece of horror history, this is a must see film that will certainly appeal to genre fans. The film is very good, but will not appeal to everyone. However, fans should appreciate this gem for what it is, and there are some good performances here, and the tone of the movie is disturbing and it makes for quite the viewing experience. I think it's too bad that the film cost Browning's career, as you only imagine what other classic he could have made. Freaks is not perfect, but in terms of classic horror cinema, it is a picture that helped shape the genre for years to come. The fact that Browning has used real people with deformities is what has made this one stand out above other films, and it is what makes this picture so unique and shocking the process.
  • December 13, 2012
    A pre-code horror film from legendary director Tod Browning, Freaks lives on in infamy for its perverse message, timeless lines, and use of circus sideshow freaks at the height of their fame. At the time Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circuses made it a point to include fre... read moreak shows along with an animal tent and the three ring big tops of yore. These "freaks" were often well paid and lived their retirement years very comfortably, especially those lauded as the most unusual such as conjoined twins, human torsos, and giantesses. In the film many of the most famous and well paid freaks in the country were cast, including Prince Randanian, and the Doll Family, including Dolly and Harry Earles as the couple torn apart by Cleopatra's obnoxious money hungry plot with strongman Hercules. The main focus of the film is that the freaks are regarded as trifle oddities and not true people by the villainous Cleopatra, and she is hunted down and paid for the crimes she commits against a dwarf who looks eerily like a small boy but is actually a full grown man. The film itself is very progressive in showing these sideshow performers not just as regular people, but also showing the hurt inflicted by those with little thought for others' feelings in a time without political correctness. It was interesting to watch the many feats of the performing freaks, those afflicted with problematic birth defects, and the now defunct lives of freak show performers, today not prevalent in society because most states ban freak shows from operating. The film doesn't build successfully to the final hideous climax at the end, because the rest of the film focuses on the characters as people and not monsters. None of them seem able to do the deed attributed to Cleopatra's downfall and therefore it's an unbelievable premise. Their creepy chanting at the wedding banquet and the steely resolve in their eyes as the thunder rips across the sky is believable but doesn't make sense, and deserved some of that iconic chanting. The beginning half of the film is unusually trimmed in humor, and includes a love story between an aerialist and a clown. The ending isn't even very horrific, but instead comical, and the additional prologue they tacked on was more confusing than anything. Even the beginning spiel that introduces the film is morose and certainly insulting to the performers. Iconic and interesting, but not the horror classic I was expecting.
  • September 25, 2012
    This is a very cool movie. It has real people from circuses and a great story. The mixture of authenticity and a fantastic story makes for such a great movie.
  • fb1664868775
    March 3, 2012
    A very odd film that forces everyone who sees it to confront their prejudices.
  • October 1, 2011
    A cracker, shame it's so scissored (down to only an hour). But what's left is perfecto, a movie that couldn't me made today (or if it was, it'd be cloyingly manipulative). Why Browning gets credit much more for the very boring Dracula iover this, I'll never know. This flick also ... read moresports my favourite tagline ever: "can a grown woman truly love a midget?". All mutant cast as well, no punches pulled.
  • February 5, 2011
    A magnificent piece of cult celluloid. I love this film. I love the controversy surrounding it...I love the fact that Tod Browning used real freaks of nature for the film...and I love that the film is my own personal collection. :)
  • January 23, 2011
    I think that this movie, although impossible by today's standards of human rights and regulations, is one of the saddest films I have ever seen. The first time I watched it I did cry and with a film that has appeared on so many "disturbing" lists since it was made in 1936 I was n... read moreot expecting to be so moved. The basis of the story revolves around a freak show, with genuinely deformed people replacing actors with special effects make up, which is why it caused so much controversy. At the heart of Freaks is a love story between a midget named Hans and a trapeze artist named Cleopatra. I thought although they were not actors by trade the cast delivered wonderfully and a movie where a man rolls, lights and smokes a cigarette with no arms or legs, that also bares the tagline "Can a fully grown woman ever truly love a midget?" is a good movie in my opinion and is why I have the poster for this film on the wall in my kitchen.
  • October 14, 2010
    A circus' beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of side-show performers, but his deformed friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance.

    The shock ending alone is enough to rate this movie 5 stars. That was such a nightmarish climax. It'll stick w... read moreith me forever. The only thing that sucks about this film is that it's 1 hour and 5 minutes long. I didn't want this film to end. It's pure genius. Freaks is an emotional disturbing tale of loneliness, seclusion, ridicule, and sweet, sweet revenge. A rare breed of a horror film. Both touching and creepingly demented. A flawlessly brilliant classic in every sense of the term.

  • May 30, 2010
    It's really pretty hard to categorize this one, as it has it all: shocks, scares, humor, sweetness, and an undeniable "message". As a cult classic, it is a landmark. As a film in general, it is also a landmark, chiefly because of Tod Browning's decision to cast real people with d... read moreeformities instead of using special effects and makeup. I really liked some of the lighting, framing, and camera work on display. They really added to the atmosphere of things. Not for all tastes. but definitely one to check out of you're in the mood for something odd.
  • November 3, 2009
    Landmark cult film about the relationship between a long legged trapeze artist named Cleopatra and Hans, the dwarf she marries. Uncategorizable film is creepy and disturbing, but also touching and sweet. What makes this film so unique is director Tod Browning's controversial st... read moreep in casting real people with deformities as the so-called sideshow "freaks," rather than using costumes and makeup. However it is these performers that come off as trusting and honorable, while two of the "normal" members of the circus are portrayed as the real monsters. Although certainly one of the most unusual films ever produced by a major Hollywood studio, the message of sympathy and acceptance is admirable. The well publicized revulsion with which audiences originally greeted this film seems unjustified. A fascinating movie that remains a curious oddity.

Critic Reviews

Variety Staff
March 26, 2009
Variety Staff, Variety

Freaks is sumptuously produced, admirably directed, and no cost was spared. But Metro failed to realize that even with a different sort of offering the story still is important. Full Review

October 7, 2008
TIME Magazine

Director Tod Browning, one of the few truly individual directors in the U. S., is a specialist in horror. Full Review

Dave Kehr
September 24, 2007
Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

If the heart of the horror movie is the annihilating Other, the Other has never appeared with more vividness, teasing sympathy, and terror than in this 1932 film by Tod Browning. Full Review

August 8, 2006
New York Times

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer definitely has on its hands a picture that is out of the ordinary. Full Review

Geoff Andrew
January 26, 2006
Geoff Andrew, Time Out

It has now achieved deserved recognition as a masterpiece. Full Review

Felix Vasquez Jr.
October 28, 2013
Felix Vasquez Jr., Cinema Crazed

A masterpiece of the horror mold, and one that warrants a loyal audience. Full Review

Cole Smithey
December 9, 2011
Cole Smithey,

[VIDEO ESSAY] In spite of the tremendous success he enjoyed with "Dracula" in 1931, Tod Browning's directorial career was effectively ruined after he made "Freaks" the following year. Full Review

October 20, 2010
Total Film

Firmly out of its tree from start to finish, the campy performances and bonkers dialogue make for plenty of cherishably deranged moments. Full Review

Philip French
September 24, 2007
Philip French, Observer [UK]

To the horror movie, a genre he helped create, he brought a taste for Victorian melodrama and an understanding, which he must have gained in the circus, for the isolated lives of weird and deformed ou... Full Review

September 24, 2007
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Freaks is one of Browning's more consistently fine films, a landmark still worth seeing. Full Review

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    • Hercules: They're going to make you one of them my little peacock.
    • Frieda: Please Hans, don't cry. I love you.
    • Themselves: Gobble gobble, gobble gobble. We accept her. One of us, one of us.

Freaks : Watch Free on TV

Freaks Trivia

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