“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!”

Freaks centers on an enchanting preformer, Cleopatra, who entices a “midget,” named Hans, into falling in love with her. They were called midgets then, now they are referred to as little people. The “midget” is in fact enaged to another woman who is incedentally, also a “midget”named Freida. Cleopatra was at first only trying to fool around with Hans and get money from him occasionally. She soon realized that Hans had inherited quite a large amount of money. She devises a plan to marry Hans and later poison him to inherit the money. Arguably, the most famous scene in Freaks is Hans and Cleo’s wedding reception. The “freaks” reluctantly decide to accept her despite her “normality” and chant the notoriously disturbing yet hilarious quote, “We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!” Afterwards, Hans then becomes very ill by Cleo’s hand. He soon figures out her plan and the freaks become offended. They knew she could not be one of them. The film ends with a horrific and disturbing chase in the rain where the “freaks” follow her slowly and Cleo screams for her life. Her and her lover, the “muscle man,” are caught and not killed, but worse. They become freaks themselves. They are mutilated, castrated, and deformed until they are the subject of a freak show. They became one of the “freaks” they hated so much.

Tod Browning is best known for directing the classic Bella Lugosi version of Dracula. A film like Dracula could be called “safe” compared to his later film, Freaks. Freaks simultaneously made and ruined Tod Browning’s career. All films produced afterwards were financially unsuccessful and not well received. Freaksis a pre-code horror drama about sideshow “freaks”. A pre-code films were in an era where films began introducing sound into film and ended in 1930. The only type of censorship was determined by state or town.  Films of this era have many themes that one would consider taboo (a large part of cult films). Some examples include references to sex (heterosexual and homosexual), miscegenation, drug use, infidelity, abortion, and intense violence. When one who doesn’t know of this time period it seems strange to think that these topics would be accpeted in such a mainstream thing as the film business considering couples were not even seen in bed together on TV until the 1950s. Considering the level of “profanity” involved in these films it’s hard to imagine them being so accepted and they were to some degree, but Freaks was quite an exception. Freaks, along with a constellation of similarly transgressive films, led the motion picture business to reconsider their levity in censorship.

One of the most gut-wrenching things about this films is the fact that every “freak” in the film was a real person with the same deformity their characters had. This gives the story a profound sense of reality, making the betrayal of Hans by Cleo all the more tragic. The film was extremely controversial when released and hated by audiences. The scenes where Cleo and the muscle man were mutilated had to be cut from the film in order to be shown in theaters. That footage has since been lost. In a viewing of the film, a sudden jump takes place after the freaks catch Cleo. The audience feels cheated. We have waited so long to see Cleo get her punishment. Part of that dissatisfaction adds to the mystique of this bizzare trip. The film was forgotten about until the mid 1970s where it was rediscovered as a counterculture cult film. A counterculture film runs counter to the the norm of society. Freaks is a great example of fame by taboos and controversy. It explores themes of humanity that are still relatively unexplored today. Some people don’t know how to interact with disabled people. They dont know wether to treat them as something “lower” than them like a baby or pet or to treat them like any other person and have the same demands as any other person. There are many dilemas that arise when considering such a flaw in our society. Freaks frightened audiences by the monstrosity of the “freaks” and by their own inhumanity. Then even more issues arise when the two fall in love. How does a “normal” person love a “freak?” As the tagline boldly suggests, “Can a full grown woman fully love a MIDGET?”

A clip of the wedding scene:

Advertisements