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Unquestionably, Tod Brownings FREAKS ($20) is one of the most notorious "horror" movies to come out of a major Hollywood studio- a reputation that has not diminished in the seventy plus years since the film was made. While FREAKS retains some disturbing elements, I really don’t think this movie melodrama has quite the same effect on today’s audiences, as it did seven decades ago. Set inside the world of a sideshow, the movie illustrates the great sense of humanity and brotherhood that exists within a group of unique individuals, which the traveling circus puts on display for its patrons to gawk at.

At the heart of the FREAKS is the story of diminutive little people Hans (Harry Earles) and Frieda (Daisy Earles), whose romance is torn apart by a trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), a full sized woman who seems to take an interest in Hans. However, it turns out that Cleopatra’s interest is purely mercenary, since she has discovered that Hans is about to come into an inheritance that will make him a wealthy man. Along with the circus strong man, Hercules (Henry Victor), Cleopatra plots to marry Hans for his money, but neither of them is prepared to face the wrath of the "freaks" once their plot is exposed. The cast of FREAKS also features Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Roscoe Ates, and Rose Dione.

Warner Home Video has made FREAKS available on DVD in a transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. For its age, this black and white film looks quite good on DVD. Obviously, some digital restorative work has been applied to the transfer to give a generally clean and smooth appearance. Sharpness and detail is good for a film of this vintage, but individual shots do display some mild softness. The final "happy ending" sequence that was tacked onto the film is the only portion of the movie that has a very dupey looking appearance. Blacks are usually accurate, whites are stable and contrast is good. A grain structure is noticeable throughout the presentation, but is never distracting. Digital compression artifacts maintain a low profile.

The Dolby Digital soundtrack is acceptable, but the cleanup work could not overcome some of the limitations in this film from the early sound era. Some mild hiss remains on the track although most of the extraneous noise has been removed. Fidelity has its limitations and sometimes there is a bit of harshness and distortion to the music, although it never becomes excessive. Dialogue is fairly understandable, but some of the performers have accents of other limitations that occasionally makes what they are saying difficult to understand. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few nice supplements. A Special Message Prologue is a text message intended to be shown before FREAKS, to alert the audience to the nature of the film they were about to see. Next is a highly informative running audio commentary by horror film historian David Skal. Freaks: The Sideshow Cinema is an excellent hour-long program that looks at the film’s production in detail, as well as the performers in the movie. Several Alternate Endings that were designed to make the film more palatable to audiences close out the supplements.

With its unusual subject matter, FREAKS is not a movie that will appeal to everyone. That said- I have to complement Warner Home Video for their fine presentation of the film on DVD, as well as some excellent supplemental materials. If you are a horror buff, with a particular interest in the genre films of the 1930s, FREAKS is a DVD you will have to add to your collection.



Freaks (1932)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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