Rating: ******

Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles, Johnny Eck

Freaks is a film that deserves lots of credit.
It has been the subject of controversy and numerous edits.
It horrified audiences when it debuted
And fascinates new audiences. (It may be rebooted.)

The story is simple: a fiery dame
Discovers a marriage can be to her gain,
For she finds out he’s rich, much to her pleasure.
He has lands, and a title, and a mountain of treasure.

So far, this premise sounds rather familiar,
But the way this film plays it is more than peculiar.
It’s set in a sideshow, a part of a circus
That gets people excited to see the full circus

By offering glimpses into the full show
With various performers all ready to go.
The woman’s an acrobat, the rich man a freak,
A small little dwarf with small little feet.

He’s friends with more freaks, humans when born
Somehow turned out oddly deformed.
One man is a half-man who walks on his hands.
One man is limbless, unable to stand.

One is a male/female hybrid.
And one is a troupe of pinhead kids.
There’s a girl he’s sweet on, someone his size,
But he forgets her when the beauty bats her eyes.

To a short man like him, she’s like a dream come true—
A normal-sized goddess who likes him, too.
Of course, she doesn’t like him. She’s only pretending.
Cozying up to this freak gives her shivers unending.

She despises the freaks. She can’t stand their sight,
And she bursts out these feelings on their wedding night.
The freaks are assembled around a table.
She’s trying to show happiness, as well as she is able.

Her new husband sits beside her. They had completed the deal,
And it slowly dawns on her that her fate is now sealed.
She tries to suck it up and she tries to be brave,
But she knows she’ll have to follow through. She knows she won’t be saved.

Then the freaks begin to chant,
“You are one of us!”—
Ever often, ever louder, “You are one of us!”—

Till she loses it completely and her face becomes a scowl.
She calls them low, disgusting freaks, and she says it with a howl.
When she finishes her outburst she sees shocked and empty faces.
Without a word they all get up and quickly leave their places.

Her husband Hans is betrayed and hurt, and looks down at his feet.
She does her best to placate him, and to soften his defeat.
She realizes now that she has just made a mistake.
The freaks have lost their trust in her. She has put so much at stake.

In the next few months she carries out the plan that she’d been hatching.
Ever since she began to pursue the husband she was catching.
She began to administer to Hans, that little wealthy dude,
A steady dose of poison, which she added to his food,

And when her beau was busy, and she needed time alone,
She would make love to the strongman. Was not her life her own?
The strongman was a bully who also hated freaks.
He marveled in their tears and laughed at their shrieks.

What the two of them were unwary of was that all walls have eyes.
Everything that woman did was being observed by spies.
The freaks were far from stupid. They were on the side of Hans.
They told him he was being poisoned, and what was going on.

So Hans stopped taking poison and thought up a stratagem.
The two needed a punishment, one designed for them.
One fateful night their wagon train halted late at night.
It took a few minutes before the foes realized their plight.

Out into a thunderstorm the two of them were chased—
The seductress, alone and terrified, and the strongman both were faced
With a small army of fully armed, sick, repulsive creatures,
Their evil eyes and angry looks were among their better features.

They crept towards their victims, not an ounce of pity felt.
They all had felt humiliation. They all had felt the belt.
They ran, but the two normal people soon had nowhere else to run.
This would be the end of their dreaming. This would be the end of their fun.
Both the strongman and the acrobat must have feared for their lives
As the freaks came towards them and attacked them with their knives.

Some time later, maybe years, the sideshow barker gets a crowd.
He begins describing something in his circus, shouting loud.
He speaks of some unfortunate person, who had had a bit of bad luck,
And had been in a bad accident, perhaps one with a truck.

Her legs were gone, her features scarred, her beauty now a dream
And something happened to her voice, making her unable to scream.
A curtain’s pulled. Something sits, where everyone can see.
What was once the acrobat looks at everybody.

Once a famous beauty, and now a sad, misshapen thing,
She’s stared at like an object. The people ooh and aah and sing.
When they’re finished gawking they’ll just go on with their lives.
When they get bored they’ll switch to the next attraction to greet their eyes.

Someone near her in a costume sings sopranic caterwauls.
He used to be the strongman ‘fore the freaks cut off his balls.
And the words the thing remembers most as her dreams turn into dust,
From the table filled with chanting freaks saying “You are one of us!”—
Ever often, ever louder, “You are one of us!”
Till her mind begins to shatter, “YOU ARE ONE OF US!!!”

A little slow-paced, but with atmosphere galore,
I’m giving this marvelous film a four.

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