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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Freaks: SE
Freaks: SE
Warner Bros. // Unrated // August 10, 2004
List Price: $19.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by G. Noel Gross | posted August 20, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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CineSchlock-O-Rama

VICTORY OVER VHS OBLIVION! Continued vigilance nets another capture after 102 weeks among CineSchlock-O-Rama's Most Wanted.

FREAKS: Well, gooble gobble, if it hasn't been more than 70 YEARS and this great, great, great grand pappy of exploitation cinema STILL reigns! Back in the '30s, after Universal's mega-hits with Frankenstein and Dracula, Hollywood had themselves a boiling case of FRIGHT FEVER not terribly unlike that which Scream recently wrought. Irving Thalberg was the green-eyed monster over at MGM who reckoned Dracula director Tod Browning could whip up something even more horrifying (and profitable) than that dreary ol' fang face. Unfortunately, for all involved, he did (and he didn't). See, Tod got R-E-A-L and that, ahem, FREAKED the bejebbers out of Mr. Thalberg, critics and anyone else who ever bugged their peepers at the flick. But what's that time-honored saying? To be universally reviled in one's own time is to be deemed a masterwork by free-lovin' hippies 30 years later and heralded still another 40 years later by fussy film historians and gutter-wallering CineSchlockers alike? Something like that.

Wade past the hysteria and there's the sensitive sideshow story of a pint-sized Romeo (Harry Earles) who finds his romantic Everest in a swingin' trapeze siren (Olga Baclanova). At first she's amused by his upward woo pitching. Then her reciprocal flirtation turns sinister with a scheme to bilk the little fella out of his loot AND his life! This quasi film noir backdrop provides entree for a deliriously garish parade of human "blunders of nature" such as Johnny Eck the perpetually handstanding "Half Boy," the pointy noggin'd Snow Twins and Radian the armless, legless "Living Torso" who can fiddle open a matchbox and light his own cigarette using only his choppers. They're all nice enough folks, thriving amid personal hardships, though chillingly ferocious in defense of their peeps!

Unlike Wes Craven's aforementioned sensation, Mr. Browning's career-killer didn't exactly spark a rush of sequels or jiggly copycats starring the yesteryear equivalent of Jennifer Love Hewitt. It took three decades and the gall of exploiteer extraordinaire David F. Friedman before the classick was "remade" as She Freak. And Dave being Dave, even that's not exactly the gospel truth as the similarities are slim until carny vengeance finally ensues.

No breasts. Bull rasslin. Acrobatics. Horsey-back humiliation. Boozing. Siamese three-way. Freaky frolicking. Clowning. Gratuitous stuttering. Sword swallowing. Mickey slipping. Fire eating. Germanic hysterics. Table dancing. Bearded birth. Gender bending. Hans eyes the summit: "She's the most beautiful BIG woman I have ever seen!" A horrified gawker yelps: "Children!?! THEY'RE MONSTERS!!!" Ms. Baclanova nearly emotes herself into orbit with the climatic line: "YOU DIRTY! SLIMY! FREAKS! FREAKS! FREAKS!" Of course, that'd poop any party -- and it does hers permanently -- but take a swig from the loving cup and get your freak on with this wedding feast sing-along:

We accept her. One of us.
We accept her. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.
One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
One of us. One of us.
One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
One of us. Gooble gobble.
One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
One of us. Gooble gobble.
One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.
One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.
One of us. One of us.

We accept her. We accept her.
We accept her. We accept her.
One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.
One of us. One of us.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.

We accept her. We accept her.
Gooble gobble. Gooble gobble.
One of --

Thankfully, Warner Home Video's made this release worth the seemingly interminable wait by crafting an illuminating mix of extras and offering a best-yet audio/video transfer. (Static reduction from cable airings is especially welcome!) The cadence of horror historian David J. Skal's scripted commentary is initially off-putting until the delectable depth of his knowledge swallows such a minor misgiving. Want fastidious insights on Browning's use of silent film techniques? Wonder why Schlitze was a cross-dresser? Need the inside skinny on missing dialogue? How 'bout snippets from scathing reviews of the day? Skal's your man! He's also front and center for a short reel explaining the reasons behind various ENDINGS the flick's endured. (Warner includes the Hans 'n' Frieda epilogue as part of the regular running time.) Yet the real prize is Tod Browning's Freaks: The Sideshow Cinema which chronicles the real-life highs and woes of the cast alongside expert perspectives from contemporary carnies Todd Robbins and Johnny Meah. What a freakified feast! An absolute must-own for any self-respecting CineSchlocker. Gooble gobble! (1932, 62 mins, Fullframe, DD mono, Commentary, Documentary, Creepily apologetic prologue, Alternate ending featurette. No printed insert.)

Check out CineSchlock-O-Rama
for additional reviews and bonus features.

G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.
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