Once I heard what Ally's choice was this week I was nervous. From what I had heard, despite being made in the 1930's, this film was a tough watch, it was originally banned in the UK for 30 years after its release! I can cope with most things at horror club (just look at Inside) but that's because it is "make believe" and I can always keep telling myself that it isn't real. With Freaks this isn't really an option.
Maybe this is why the film gained so much opposition upon its release. It's almost as if the film is a documentary at times showing you behind the scenes at a circus and there are numerous scenes that do not "further the plot" in the traditional sense and which are just there to show off the "Freaks". Not only is this quite avant garde for a film in the 30's but it also presents a dilemma for the modern day audience in my mind.
On the one hand this film is the complete opposite of what I had expected, yet at the same time is exactly what I feared (not in the horror sense). Freaks was a lot deeper than I expected, it is a morality tale about discrimination and prejudice in which the "normal" people are the real villians. Yet at the same time the film is called Freaks and clearly plays upon the fact that the casts deformities and differences. It seems hypocritical at times and at times I felt uneasy because of this. Not least in the final scene where the "freaks" are shot as if they are archetypal villain's in a "monster" movie.
The film was actually classified as a horror upon its original release, hence the reason we watched at horror club, but if it was released today I can't imagine it would be sitting beside Friday the 13th in your local video shop (if you still have one). Given the storyline I assume that this was the opposite of director Tod Browning's intentions, however part of the reason that this film was misclassified may be due to the fact that Browning had become better known as a horror director at this stage in his career, directing Universal's Dracula that starred Bela Lugosi, as well as the fact that these prejudices were part of society in the 30's. One woman even complained to MGM that the film was so disgusting that it caused her to have a miscarriage.
I really enjoyed watching Freaks, the oldest film we have watched at HC, and am glad to have seen it. But I'm still unsure as to the motivations of the film and can't help but feel that some of the cast were taken advantage of (some even denounced the film years after it's release). Part of the reason may be that, like last weeks Peeping Tom attempts, this film made me question myself. I found myself unable to look away from the screen as my curiosity with those different to myself took hold and I ended up thinking I was no better than the "normal" people portrayed on screen or those who visited sideshow attractions. Having said that I defy anyone to watch Prince Randian (the Human Torso) light a cigarette and not be impressed.