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Film / Freaks

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One of us...

"We accept her, one of us! We accept her, one of us!"

Freaks is a 1932 horror film about sideshow performers, directed and produced by Tod Browning (coming off the success of the previous year's Dracula) and featuring a cast mostly composed of actual carnival performers. The film was very loosely based on Tod Robbins' short story "Spurs".

Browning had previously worked as a contortionist in a traveling circus, and much of the film was drawn from his personal experiences. He also took the exceptional step of casting real people with deformities as the eponymous sideshow "freaks", rather than using costumes and makeup on conventional actors. In the film, the deformed "freaks" are generally kind, well-meaning people. This contrasts with two of the "normal" performers in the circus (Cleopatra the acrobat and Hercules the weightlifter), who conspire to murder one of the freaks (a midget named Hans) and steal his large inheritance.


One bit of influence the film has had: The "Gooble gobble, we accept you, one of us" chant with which the freaks welcome Cleo (not that she appreciates it) was worked into the songs "Pinhead" by The Ramones and "Separated Out" by Marillion. David Bowie also namedropped the movie in the title song on his album Diamond Dogs.

Not to be confused with Freaks and Geeks, despite the etymology of the word Geek.


"We wouldn't lie to you folks, we told you we had living breathing tropes!":

  • Affectionate Nickname: Hans, in one scene, calls his fiancée Frieda "Friedchen," which is a portmanteau of her real name and the German word liebchen (beloved).
  • Ambiguous Gender: Josephine Joseph. It's still unknown whether the performer was a man, woman, or a genuine hermaphrodite, as advertised.
  • Battle in the Rain: The final confrontaton between Cleo, Hercules, and the freaks, in a driving rain.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted with the titular "freaks" who are actually very friendly and gentle people, despite not portraying the classic "standard" of beauty.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Played straight with Cleo, who is as selfish as she is shallow.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The freaks here generally are gentle and friendly people, but when someone plans the death of one of them, they will not let you get away with that... you better believe it.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Phroso saving Venus from Hercules at the end, followed by the Freaks saving Phroso from Hercules.
  • Big Eater: Hercules, who considers six eggs a light snack.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Cleopatra. She pretends to love Hans so she could marry him and then take all his money.
  • Body Horror:
    • What special effects? The eponymous freaks really looked like that.
    • What the freaks do to Hercules and Cleo counts as well. *shudder*
  • Circus of Fear: Used straight and averted. The freaks are fairly mellow people unless angered.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: A four-issue miniseries came out in 1992, written by Frank's Jim Woodring and illustrated by Francisco Solano Lopez. Per The Dark Age of Comic Books, it's Darker and Edgier— and much more graphic about what gets done to Cleo.
  • Conjoined Twins: Daisy and Violet, played by real-life conjoined twins.
  • Cutlass Between the Teeth: In the climax, the limbless Randian is seen wriggling towards the antagonist with a knife clenched between his teeth.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The "freaks" have deformities, but once you get past 'em, they're very pleasant.
  • Determinator: The "freaks." Their lack of limbs and/or other essential parts does not stop them from trying to have as good a life as possible.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Hans spits out the poisoned medicine that Cleopatra gives him, by way of a handkerchief he hid under the covers of his bed.
  • Dramatic Drop: Cleo loudly drops the spoon used to give Hans his medicine when she realizes he is on to her.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The freaks take brutal revenge on Cleo and Hercules. Hans, feeling guilty over the whole thing (even though he only wanted Cleo exposed for her crime and the poison handed over), has lived as a recluse for years. But then we see Phroso and Venus together, and Frieda gets back together with Hans, comforting him, telling him it wasn't his fault and that she loves him.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: Nobody directly mentions that Daisy and Violet are conjoined twins, not even when the fiancé of one meets the fiancé of the other. The two men even mention visiting the other couple even though logistically, they'd all have to live in one house.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While not evil, Roscoe was a bit of a jerk, and hung out with Hercules and mocked Josephine Joseph at the start. But toward the end, after it's learned that Hercules probably had (and of course, did have) a hand in poisoning Hans, we see Roscoe and Hercules together in the same place, and this time Roscoe just glares at Hercules, says nothing, and walks away from him.
  • Expy: Not in the movie itself, but in "Spurs", Jacques Coubré (renamed Hans for the movie) is basically this for Tweedledee, the Big Bad of Tod Robbins' earlier work, The Unholy Three. Essentially, he's what Tweedledee would have been like had he actually gotten away with his crimes. The movie version of Hans is nothing like Tweedledee, however (despite his actor playing the character in the Unholy Three movie adaptations).
  • Fate Worse than Death: Cleopatra and Hercules. They don't kill them. Oh, no. That would be far too kind.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Both Cleopatra, who looked down on the freaks, ends up becoming side-show freaks herself. note  Cleopatra is turned into a squawking "Human Duck", with the flesh on her hands melted to resemble duck feet, her legs amputated, and the remains of her torso being permanently tarred and feathered.
  • Mama Bear: Circus owner Madame Tetrallini where the more vulnerable freaks are concerned. She even calls them her "children."
  • Nice to the Waiter: Phroso being kind to Schlitzie and the Snow sisters, who are all mentally handicapped.
  • Older Than They Look: Hans and Frieda, by oh-so-very-much. They may look like children, but they're both adults and quite eligible for marriage.
  • Played for Laughs: The scenes involving the conjoined twins and their romantic laugh were intended to be Cringe Comedy to some degree.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Violet is a fiery party girl; Daisy is a demure homebody.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    Cleopatra: "FILTHY! SLIMY! FREAKS!"
  • Sex by Proxy: Daisy and Violet, necessarily. They can each feel the other's emotions. The scene where one twin kisses her fiancé and the other twin lights up with pleasure is a surprisingly explicit allusion to this.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: SCARY SCARY TITLE CARD! Perfectly normal hanging-out scene involving circus performers. Who are freaks.
  • Stalker with a Crush: There's a scene where one of the circus workers is telling a story about a guy who keeps showing up in the audience and proposing to marry her, but the viewer is probably too busy watching the armless Frances O'Connor use a knife and fork with her feet to listen.
  • Stock Shout-Outs: The "One of Us" chant.
  • The Strongman: Hercules works as the circus's strongman.
  • True Companions: The freaks are a family, and if you mess with one member, you mess with all of them. Cleopatra and Hercules find this out too late.


Example of: