Freaks (1932) Review
Written by: EasterBunnyKiller
I'm going to take the time to admit that I have not watched very many horror movies from before the 60's, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this. I went in expecting a horror movie, and for about the first forty minutes, I felt kind of disappointed.
The movie is about a bunch of circus performers and what goes on after the show is through and the patrons have gone home. Think of it as a 70 year predecessor to Carnivale, because it has the same sort of feel to it. The movie is hugely focused on the interaction between the circus folk, so as I was watching it, it struck me as a drama, because as far as I could tell, there weren't anything that a modern audience might interpret as a horror element. However, no doubt that for a 1930's audience, the continual images of deformed freaks probably had great shock value.
That aside, "Freaks" portrayed the circus folk as regular people with regular problems, which in itself puts the movie far ahead of its time. And if you can last through the first forty minutes or so (the film is only a little more than an hour), it is definitely worth it, because ht last twenty-odd minutes kick into high gear with the horror elements.
What now seem like cliche conventions were ideas that were relatively new to the genre. The use of light and darkness in the film is amazing, because it doesn't go the route of the classic Gothic horror film, and it goes very far to suggest the duality of the characters in the film, as well as the duality of man at large. While most of the film features high light and cheery music, and the freaks seeming very quaint and ordinary, as the film's climax near, the music grows foreboding, the lighting dank, and the freaks are transformed into incarnations of malice that no doubt stem from the contemporary distrust of the, as well as inadvertently propagating it.
The acting is decent, though to my eye, it appeared a bit dry. But then, that is probably just a testament of the difference in acting between the time it was made and the acting that modern audiences are accustomed to. The story is nice and straightforward, without relying on digression with complicated subplots. And the subplots that do exist are simply there to flesh out the characters and meld very well with the main story.
The build-up of the story is extremely slow and deliberate, so to view the movie, you need to have a bit of patience. But, as noted above, the waiting is definitely worth it. I recommend this film to anyone with patience and a modicum of taste. If you need you horror movies to draw from its own mythology, or you need a high body count, or you need graphic violence, or pretty teens running around like idiots, this film is not for you.