Tod Browning's Freaks is a violent, cautionary tale about the radical Otherness of alien beings.
It was banned for many years in several countries, and is still supremely unsettling in its extremity.
The film is about circus freaks, and they are played by the real thing – dwarfs, pinheads, strong men, a "human worm" with no limbs whatsoever.
The movie starts with a reassuring, almost paradisal idyll, as a passer-by observes the freaks gambolling in a field, and compares them to innocent, little children.
This cute spectacle, however, is Browning's astonishingly bold ruse – for the film's scenario then leads us inexorably to a numbed recognition of the infernal passion and savagery of these characters, as they reduce the ugly humans who have wronged them to an even lower rung of existence.
It is a brilliant, singular work, whose superb construction reflects the figural economy of the best fantastique films of the early '30s.
© Adrian Martin June 1993