A carnival barker displays a sideshow freak called the Feathered Hen and tells her story. Cleopatra, a trapeze artist with the carnival, is adored by a midget named Hans. Frieda, Hans' fiancée (also a midget), warns Hans that Cleopatra is only interested in him so that he will give her Show more... money. Cleopatra has an affair with Hercules, and when Frieda lets it slip that Hans is to come into an inheritance, Cleopatra and Hercules plan to get the money be having Cleopatra marry Hans. During the wedding reception, Cleopatra, although openly romantic with Hercules, is accepted by the freaks, but is revolted and mocks them. The freaks decide that they no longer need Hercules in their carnival and have a new career for Cleopatra all lined up, and make sure she doesn't 'chicken' out.
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John Chard This is for the misfits the freaks and the runts. Tod Browning's Freaks is as infamous today as it was back in the 30s when it shook film watchers to the core. Of course time has diluted some of its impact, you can imagine that a modern day horror fan drooling over torture porn et al being completely bemused by the reputation afforded Freaks. Yet it still remains a unique and nightmarish piece of film making, the sort of picture that if someone like David Lynch had made it in the modern era it would be heralded as a masterpiece of daring and genius like artistry. Browning pulls us the viewers into this bizarre carnival society of oddities who are genuinely portrayed by real people. Their codes and ethics are laid bare, but not in some sort of yearning for sympathy, but in a factual way of life. Browning toys with his audience, planting suggestive images of sexual dalliances and role reversals, then he completely pulls the rug from under us to deliver his flip-flop finale. The messages aren't deep, but they need to be thought about. For even as the freaks of Browning's play terrifyingly pursue their quarry through the rain and mud, as the blood freezes and the macabre imagery strikes the senses, it would be a shame if themes such as love and loyalty be forgotten. 9/10
Variety Staff 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.
Dave Kehr 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.
Geoff Andrew It has now achieved deserved recognition as a masterpiece.