Starring Harry Earles, Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates, Henry Victor, Daisy Earles, Rose Dione, Daisy Hilton, Violet Hilton, Schlitze, Josephine Joseph, Johnny Eck, Frances O’Connor, Peter Robinson, Olga Roderick, Koo Koo, Prince Randian, Elvira Snow, Jenny Lee Snow, Elizabeth Green
Directed by Tod Browning
Freaks is a weird little movie. It’s just so hard to classify. I’ve heard it most often talked about in the context of being a horror film, and in some ways it definitely fits that bill. Director Tod Browning had made the seminal classic Dracula for Universal just the previous year, so if nothing else Freaks has horror clout. But most of Freaks isn’t horrific at all, it’s a twisted love story as old as the hills. So why then has the film built up a huge cult following in the 80+ years since its release?
The simple answer is the casting. Instead of using makeup and prosthetics to achieve the circus freaks of the film, Tod Browning opted to use actual circus performers in the film’s roles. And not just as the background color, they fill out many of the major roles. This gives Freaks — even to this day — a spectacle-like quality that would otherwise be missing. The silent-era version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an interesting movie, one well-worth watching for dedicated film fans, but we all know that the hunchback is Lon Chaney in makeup and he’s not really hunchbacked. The performers in this film bring a reality to the screen that is rarely seen.