Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
7.-Freaks-1932 imagelarge.jpg


Freaks (1932) is a horror film about sideshow performers, directed and produced by Tod Browning and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with a cast mostly composed of actual carnival performers. The film was based on Tod Robbins' short story "Spurs". Director Browning took the exceptional step of casting real people with deformities as the eponymous sideshow "freaks," rather than using costumes and makeup.

Browning had been a contortionist in a traveling circus in his early years, and much of the film was drawn from his personal experiences. In the film, the physically deformed "freaks" are inherently trusting and honorable people, while the real monsters are two of the "normal" members of the circus who conspire to murder one of the performers to obtain 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 song "Pinhead" by The Ramones.[1]

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

Freaks is the Trope Namer for:
  • One of Us: The chant with which the freaks welcome Cleo provided the name for our page about membership in our specialized "tribe".
Tropes used in Freaks include:
  • Ambiguous Gender: Josephine Joseph. It's still unknown whether the performer was a man, woman, or a genuine hermaphrodite, as advertised.
  • And I Must Scream: Behold, the amazing Chicken Lady!
  • Asshole Victims: Hercules and Cleopatra.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: inverted at first with the titular 'freaks' (who are not most people's idea of beauty, but are the good and sympathetic characters) and with Cleo (for whom it's entirely the opposite).
  • Beta Couple: Phroso and Venus
  • 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 gotta believe it.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Phroso saving Venus from Hercules at the end, followed by the Freaks saving Phroso from Hercules.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Cleopatra. She pretends to love Hans so she can marry him and then take all his money.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The fate given to Cleo and Hercules, while well-deserved, most likely landed the freaks in prison or at least out of a job. 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.
  • Body Horror: What special effects? The eponymous freaks really looked like that.
  • Circus of Fear: Used straight and averted. The freaks are fairly mellow people unless angered.
  • 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
  • Elephant in the Living Room: Nobody mentions that Daisy and Violet are conjoined twins, not even when the fiance of one meets the fiance of the other.
  • 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 (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, Hans 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.
  • Groin Attack: A now-lost alternate ending has a scene of Hercules the misogynist singing soprano.
  • Hostile Weather: Used memorably in the climax.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Phroso, Roscoe
  • Karmic Transformation: Cleo, Cleo, Cleo... do not piss off the circus freaks...
  • Mutants
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: Roscoe.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:


  • Sex by Proxy: Daisy and Violet, necessarily. They can each feel the other's emotions.
    • In the musical Side Show, which is based on the lives of the same conjoined twins, there's a scene where the girls and their respective love interests are on a Tunnel of Love ride. Violet seems to be able to feel Daisy's reaction to being kissed by Terry (and notes that it's much stronger than her own response to being kissed by her fiancé).
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Scary scary title card! Perfectly normal hanging-out scene involving circus performers. Who are freaks.
  • Written in Infirmity: Averted here, as they did not try to hide the fact that most of the cast is deformed.