FREAKS (1932) – Aren’t we all freaks in some way?


The following is my entry in The Disability in Film Blogathon, being hosted May 13-15, 2016 by Robin at the blog Pop Culture Reverie. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of movies depicting a wide variety of persons living with disabilities!


In light of Freaks being a horror movie (Tod Browning also directed the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula), it’s most ironic that it treats sideshow attractions as real people. In fact, in this film, the people who treat these carnival workers as “freaks” aren’t very normal themselves — which is the point of much of this movie.


The movie primarily concerns Hans, a midget who succumbs to the flattery and charm of Cleopatra, the carnival’s local beauty, despite Hans’s being loved and accepted by the carnival’s informal family of “freaks,” most of all by Frieda, a fellow short person. The movie takes great pains to show this informal family of carnival workers most matter-of-factly. The movie’s “Everyperson” couple of Phroso and Venus interacts with the group’s Siamese twins, a man lacking arms and legs, etc., and the movie does nothing to draw great attention to these workers after their initial screen appearances.

But in spite of lacking physical normalities, these people are anything but helpless. When Cleopatra and her strong-man lover Hercules take great pains to humiliate Hans and (by extension) the rest of his extended family, they exact a most complete and utter revenge.

It is at this point that the movie, having admirably shown the “freaks” as human beings, does indeed exploit their deformities for maximum impact. And yet, the “freaks” seem quite happy to cooperate in such exploitation, probably because it shows them as both empowered and empowering. In short, the film’s message is: Just because we’re different, don’t assume we’re weaklings. In their own way, the “freaks” can kick behind with the best of cinema’s he-men.

It’s probably this very message that has caused the movie’s ongoing controversy. M-G-M released the movie in 1932 and then did its best to disavow the whole thing. And it was banned in Britain for over 30 years.

But in a movie era where no oddity is considered too sacred for either a quick laugh or massive condescension (see the Farrelly Bros. filmography), this movie is worth a second look. We’re all freaks in one sense or other, and perhaps if we more often looked inward, a little less hostility might directed outward.

4 responses to “FREAKS (1932) – Aren’t we all freaks in some way?

  1. Pingback: The Disability in Film Blogathon Is Finally Here | Pop Culture Reverie

  2. Thanks for participating! I agree that Freaks walks an compelling line between exploitation and empowerment. It interestingly focuses on the extraordinary abilities of the people we would often call disabled.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “One of us!”
    A quite interesting reflexion on the film. I liked when you said “the people who treat these carnival workers as “freaks” aren’t very normal themselves.” It’s so true! This was a rather shocking film at the time and it’s still is. And not because of the “freaks” themselves, but because of the way they are treated.
    Thanks for the great article. Don’t forget to read my entry as well 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love this movie! It does walk a fine line but I’m on the side of empowerment. It’s sad that people would rather forget about this movie but it is apart of the world we lived it back then. And I love your last line!

    Liked by 1 person

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