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Freaks, meet Frankenstein. Frankenstein… Freaks – The Blogging Dead

October 19, 2011

I’m rather dissatisfied with the state of Horror this past year. Nothing really stood out for me. So, in preparation for Halloween I’ve been delving into the beginnings of Cinematic Horror. What did I watch first?

Freaks (1932) , directed by Tod Browning. Freaks is regarded as a horror classic. In my humble opinion, labeling this film as just horror is a disservice. It is a crime film, a circus film, an unrequited love story, and a horrific tale of revenge. The first time I had heard of this film, was when Whoopie Goldberg and Lyle Lovett quote the line “One of us!” in the film The Player. Freaks is the story of a sideshow ‘freak’ / little person, Hans, falling in love with an acrobat named Cleopatra.

The interesting thing about freaks is the way that it reverses expectations. You assume that the freaks are going to be the bringers of HORROR. Because of their disfigurements, differences, etc. We assume that they want to enact revenge on the outside world like a Phantom of The Opera style character. This can’t be further from the truth. At the circus, they have a perfect community in which they accept each other, and potentially You, with open arms…. As long as you accept them for who and what they are. If you are all on the same page they will allow you to become “One of us!”

The real horror of this story is revealed in the black deeds of the regular people. Cleopatra plans to marry and murder Hans for his money that he has saved. She is a monster in every sense of the word.

The story culminates in a confrontation on a dark and stormy night between Cleopatra, her accomplice, and the circus freaks. And, let me tell you, you will not believe how they enact carny justice. Check it out.

Next up was Frankenstein (1931) directed by James Whale. I went into this expecting a hokey old film. Instead I was amazed to find a complex story of ethics. This film really is timeless for many reasons.

  1. Boris Karloff’s performance evoked both fear and sadness with every moan, step, and lurch. Having just witnessed the birth of my son, I imagine the monster was a blank slate. Rather than being loved, he is chained in a basement, poked and prodded. Wouldn’t you go on a rampage after your Dad treated you this way?
  2. The cinematography by Arthur Edeson was way ahead of its time. His composition is something of pure beauty. Stop and pause some of the wide shots and look at how perfect it is.
  3. The surrealist production design of Charles D. Hall, seemed to reflect the inner madness of the characters.
  4. The building of tension. Even though YOU know Frankenstein is right there, the characters don’t. This film lets the audience in on information that the characters are not privy to, and that makes for a few nail-biting, edge of your seat moments.
  5. A universal tale. How? Well, Frankenstein is about crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed. It is about going too far, and facing the repercussions for doing so. It is such a broad theme applied to such a horrific tragic tale. Medical science has reached a point where the Horrors of Frankenstein are very nearly here. We can transplant organs, limbs, eyes. It is a brave new world where ethics need to continuously be considered as fiction and reality are coming uncomfortably close to one another.

I look forward to watching this again soon. Perhaps next year.

If you have any suggestions for recent horror films, please share as I am always looking for a good one.

Up next? The Premiere of the Walking Dead Season 2, Cat People, and the Wolfman (Not the stupid new one though.)

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