7 Things You Might Not Know About 'Freaks'
In 1931, Dracula hit theaters and helped birth an iconic movie monster whose legacy is still felt [...]
In 1931, Dracula hit theaters and helped birth an iconic movie monster whose legacy is still felt today. Director Tod Browning was on the cusp on being one of the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood, yet his follow-up film has become one of the most controversial in history: Freaks.
The film focuses on a group of sideshow performers with one of the attractions, Hans, having immense wealth. Another performer, Cleopatra, has a relationship with strongman Hercules but devises a scheme to marry Hans for his riches. The sideshow performers embrace Cleopatra as one of their own, yet upon learning of the duo's scheme, the performers exact their revenge on Cleopatra and Hercules.
One of the most controversial elements of the film is it featured actual sideshow performers, whose variety of physical deformities weren't often shown to audiences at large. Additionally, the film depicted these "freaks" as being the sympathetic characters, as opposed to treating them as spectacles to be gawked at.
More than 85 years later, Freaks still remains one of the most affecting horror films of all time. Scroll down to learn more about the infamous film!
Director Browning served as both the director and producer on the film, drawing from his own personal experience to bring the film to life. When he was a kid, he worked as both a clown as a contortionist, giving him a real-world familiarity with the inner workings of a circus community.
The storyline of the film was inspired by the novel Spurs, with MGM executive Irving Thalberg reportedly instructing the film's writer, Willis Goldbeck, to create a script that was "horrible." After turning in a draft of the film, Goldbeck returned to meet with Thalberg who deemed the exhausting nature of the script "horrible" enough to advance to production.prevnext
Conflicting Experiences On Set
Experiences of various members of the cast give conflicting experiences, with some praising the filmmaker while others deemed the experience awful.
Johnny Eck, for example, claimed, "The technicians, the sound men, the electricians, and the prop department, and everybody... was my friend... We got along beautifully."
One of the more interesting behind-the-scenes details is that siblings Harry and Daisy Earles had to portray an on-screen couple, ensuring the Browning would downplay the affection shown between the two.prevnext
While reports of on-set conditions conflict, another constant is that the sideshow performers had grown accustomed to so much negative attention in their daily lives, their treatment on set as peers, in addition to being involved in a film, resulted in many of them "going Hollywood," with the attention going to their heads.
According to performer Johnny Eck, his fellow performers began wearing sunglasses in public to avoid being recognized, demanded special treatment on set, and argued over who was the most important performer in the film.
Of all of the performers, Olga Roderick, who played the bearded lady, was reportedly the most difficult. Despite Browning asking her to keep her natural hair, Roderick showed up on set the first day with her hair and beard dyed dark black.prevnext
The original film ran over 90 minutes, yet following disastrous test screenings, the studio ordered massive cuts, resulting in the final 64-minute film.
The demanded cuts weren't made in time for all of the scheduled screenings, resulting in various venues screenings the original, uncut film. Multiple theaters were able to take advantage of the controversy by advertising it was the last opportunity to see the uncut version of the film.
Certain states even had laws that prohibited the film from being played, with many areas never repealing these laws. While the regulations are no longer enforced, it is still technically illegal to exhibit in certain cities.prevnext
One of the biggest changes to the film was in regards to the ending, which cut a gruesome fate for Hercules.
The ending shows that Hercules is no longer the strongman in the sideshow, but is a soprano singer, with the implication being that the performers castrated him for attempting to deceive Hans. Cleopatra's fate in the finished film is being transformed into a "Human Duck," being brutally disfigured to look like the aquatic animal, which still remains in the finished film.
Sadly, much of the cut footage is considered permanently gone, presumably destroyed, with audiences never having the opportunity to see Hercules' singing debut.prevnext
Between the controversies surrounding the film and generally poor receptions from audiences, the film was considered a commercial and critical failure.
Official numbers regarding the film's budget and box office vary, with the budget being estimated around $350,000, yet the film reportedly only earned half of that at the box office.
Despite Browning having a once promising career, the film effectively ended it, with the filmmaker having only been credited with directing two more films before the decade ended, with his last film being Miracles for Sale. Since his feature film career began in 1915, Browning helmed nearly 50 films.prevnext
Of one of the most outrageous claims from the film's controversial test screening, one woman attempted to sue MGM for causing her to miscarry her pregnancy. The studio didn't take the threat lightly, being one of the many reactions that incited the re-shoots.
The film was a box office disappointment in the United States, but in the UK, the film was banned entirely. The ban on the film last until the '60s, becoming one of the longest bans on any film in UK's cinema history.
The perception of the film has changed over the years, with many outlets claiming the film as a defining cult movie, thanks to its re-releases on the midnight movie circuit, and is considered by many to be a defining moment in cinema history.prev