During the Hole in the Head festival, the Red Vic seemed to counter-program a film perfectly suited for horror and fantasy film fans. In July, the Red Vic screened Tod Browning's Freaks.
Set at a circus, the film has a noirish plot which involves the beautiful Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), a trapeze artist. She flirts with circus owner Hans, a dwarf. When she discovers he is wealthy, she conspires with her lover Hercules, the circus strongman. Cleopatra marries Hans with the intention of killing him and inheriting his money. However, her contempt and disgust at the deformities of the circus performers (including her own husband) make obvious her true intentions. Olga and Hercules eventually get their comeuppance.
The film is still shocking nearly 80 years after it was released. I can't recall another film with such an array of dwarfs, armless and legless people, Siamese twins and microcephaly sufferers. The image of 2'11" Angelo Rossito with a switchblade knife crawling through the mud in a driving rainstorm to castrate Hercules is still frightening.
Another disturbing scene involves Cleopatra and Hans' wedding reception. Rossito gets up on the dining table and starts chanting "Gobble, gobble. We accept her. One of us!" All the other freaks at the table join in the chant. That by itself is disturbing but then the drunk Cleopatra lashes out at the group. She's indignant at being grouped with the freaks. It was a bizarre and cruel scene, just like the film.
The film was too strange for audiences of the day so it was edited down. The missing footage is considered lost forever.
I learned on the internet that Hans was portrayed by Harry Earles. His true love and fellow dwarf was Frieda played by Daisy Earles...his sister! That's the most freakish part of the film - having real-life brother and sister play a romantic couple in a film.
Freaks directed by Tod Browning; (1932)
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