Critics Consensus

Time has been kind to this horror legend: Freaks manages to frighten, shock, and even touch viewers in ways that contemporary viewers missed.



Total Count: 54


Audience Score

User Ratings: 24,411
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Movie Info

Real sideshow performers star in Tod Browning's infamous cult classic, a grotesque revenge drama set against a circus backdrop. Trapeze artist Cleopatra plans to wed and then murder midget Hans for his fortune, but when his fellow 'freaks' discover her scheme, she becomes the target of their horrifying vengeance.


Olga Baclanova
as Cleopatra
Henry Victor
as Hercules
Rose Dione
as Madame Tetrallini
Daisy Hilton
as Siamese Twin
Violet Hilton
as Siamese Twin
Matt McHugh
as Rollo Brother
Olga Roderick
as Bearded Lady
Johnny Eck
as Boy With Half a Torso
Prince Randian
as Hindu Living Torso
as Himself
as Herself
Elvira Snow
as Pinhead
as Herself
Pete Robinson
as Living Skeleton
Koo Koo
as Bird Girl
as Half Woman-Half Man
Martha Morris
as Armless Wonder
Peter Robinson
as Human Skeleton
Frances O'Connor
as The Living Venus de Milo
Elizabeth Green
as Stork Woman
Albert Conti
as Monsieur Duval, the Landowner
Michael Visaroff
as Jean the Caretaker
Murray Kinnell
as Sideshow Barker
Ernie S. Adams
as Sideshow Patron
Edward S. Brophy
as Rollo Brother
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Critic Reviews for Freaks

All Critics (54) | Top Critics (9) | Fresh (51) | Rotten (3)

  • [Boasts] some of the most terrifying scenes ever consigned to film.

    Sep 28, 2015 | Full Review…
  • One of the most powerful films ever made about the need for humanity and solidarity in the face of cruelty and oppression.

    Jun 8, 2015 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • Freaks is sumptuously produced, admirably directed, and no cost was spared. But Metro failed to realize that even with a different sort of offering the story still is important.

    Mar 26, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Director Tod Browning, one of the few truly individual directors in the U. S., is a specialist in horror.

    Oct 7, 2008 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • If the heart of the horror movie is the annihilating Other, the Other has never appeared with more vividness, teasing sympathy, and terror than in this 1932 film by Tod Browning.

    Sep 24, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer definitely has on its hands a picture that is out of the ordinary.

    Aug 8, 2006 | Full Review…
    New York Times
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Freaks

  • Jul 18, 2018
    A classic of pre-Code cinema, Tod Browning's 'Freaks' is populated with a broad cast of real-life carnival performers and those with deformities, and the effect is striking. We see the armless, legless, and completely limbless. We see conjoined twins, a 'human skeleton', and microcephalics (so-called 'pinheads'). We see a 'bird girl' and a 'stork woman' (who we find out later had Virchow-Seckel syndrome). And we see some of the more conventional carnival acts: a bearded lady, a half-man/half-woman, a fire-eater, and a sword-swallower. We never see them performing in front of an audience; instead all of the action in the film is behind the scenes, and the effect is humanizing. We see life from their perspective, and that they face the same relationship issues that the rest of society face. We watch the film perhaps voyeuristically because of the deformities and differences, but it's to Browning's credit that they are shown sympathetically. A caretaker for a group which includes the three microcephalics chides a couple of guys who react in horror, pointing out they're just children who are playing in the sun. A little person (Harry Earles) points out that most 'big people' laugh at him, because "they don't realize that I'm a man with the same feelings they have." It's telling that the real 'freaks' in the story are two "normal people", a trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) and her strong-man boyfriend (Henry Victor), who play on Earles' emotions, and then plot to kill him for his money. There are several truly memorable scenes, starting with Prince Randian, "The Human Torso", an armless and legless performer in a tight one-piece garment making him appear like a caterpillar, manipulating a cigarette and a matchbox with ease, and fluidly giving himself a light. Another is when the performers are all drinking at a wedding and chanting "One of us, one of us, Gooble gobble, Gooble gobble, We accept her, we accept her, One of us, one of us" riotously, until Baclanova erupts in disgust and calls them all freaks. The look of hurt in their eyes, and shame in Earles' face is heart-rending. However, nothing can top the circus performers crawling through the mud, with revenge in their eyes. The extended sequence that this led to was so disturbing that the film's 90 minute run-time had to get cut down to just 64, and it's a real shame that the original is lost. Great film, from a great director.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 06, 2015
    Vaguely tongue-in-cheek, Freaks is good but slightly tiresome in its over-the-top satirical view of the horror genre. In contemporary viewings, Freaks could be a wonderful metaphor for the dehumanisation that renders a victim of discrimation and prejudice socially and morally unconscious. It's smart and was released way before its time and has surprisingly aged extremely well, however it isn't as entertaining as some would have you believe. Nevertheless its increasingly iconic, has aged like a fine wine and deserves its place amongst the ranks of horror classics. "We accept her one of us we accept her one of us..."
    Harry W Super Reviewer
  • Feb 28, 2013
    Classic horror director Tod Browning's Freaks is a benchmark horror picture that has been praised for being a truly unique horror film. The controversy around this is quite legendary and before its release got cut significantly in an attempt to censor its content. Director Tod Browning used real sideshow performers with real deformities as a basis for his cast. In turn, Freaks has an authentic feel to it that if you really think about is quite horrifying and ultimately unsettling. This is a well executed picture that was banned and vilified and it ended the career of a promising director who's most famous work was Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. With every horror film that has been released since, it's hard to think that Freaks caused such astir upon release. If you love classic horror films, then give this one a shot. By today's standards it's a fairly harmless movie, but for horror fans that want to watch a classic piece of horror history, this is a must see film that will certainly appeal to genre fans. The film is very good, but will not appeal to everyone. However, fans should appreciate this gem for what it is, and there are some good performances here, and the tone of the movie is disturbing and it makes for quite the viewing experience. I think it's too bad that the film cost Browning's career, as you only imagine what other classic he could have made. Freaks is not perfect, but in terms of classic horror cinema, it is a picture that helped shape the genre for years to come. The fact that Browning has used real people with deformities is what has made this one stand out above other films, and it is what makes this picture so unique and shocking the process.
    Alex r Super Reviewer
  • Aug 22, 2012
    In many ways "Freaks" is the ultimate pre-coder. It's impossible to imagine it being made a couple of years later, or even today for that matter. Movies like "Snow White & The Huntsman" and "The Hobbit" opt for digitally shrunken actors, reluctant to cast actual little people in dwarf roles. Sadly, society is just as unwilling to accept those outside the norm today as when Browning brought this tale to the screen. It's often wrongly described as an exploitation picture but it's really not. Browning makes his freaks sympathetic, it's the "normal" characters who are the villains; from the conspiring duo of Baclanova and Victor to the carnival workers who can't resist taking cruel pot-shots at the freaks. The title characters are shown living life in the same hum-drum manner as everyone else. Browning gives us great slice of life scenes which provide us with a glimpse into how someone lacking limbs lights a cigarette and in what manner conjoined twins conduct romantic relationships. The movie only really veers into the realms of horror in it's climax. After Baclanova humiliates the freaks at her wedding party they discover her plan to murder Earles and decide to exact gruesome revenge. The original cut was considered so disturbing that a full thirty minutes were cut out for it's original release. Don't expect a "director's cut" any time soon though as MGM's head honcho Irving Thalberg was so repulsed by the film he had the excised footage burnt straight away. Not helped by it's troublesome subject matter, "Freaks" was a flop on it's initial release and was immediately banned in many countries. In 1962 the film was re-released and screened at the Cannes Film Festival where it was rediscovered by a new audience. In the era of peace and love, audiences were more willing to root for Browning's deformed characters than they had been in the conservative thirties. A thirty year ban in Britain was finally lifted and the film became an instant cult hit, playing at midnight shows frequented by the beatniks of the era. The title roles were filled primarily by amateurs which gives the movie a much more natural feel than the stagey acting style popular at the time. The freaks certainly steal the show and give us characters you're not likely to forget in a hurry. There's the human skeleton, the bearded lady, the Siamese twins, a girl with no arms, a boy with no legs, midgets of varying sizes, a chicken-lady, and saddest of all, the Pinheads. Considering the events on the horizon in Europe, "Freaks" message of acceptance for those who seem different was an important and poignant one. Unfortunately few were willing to accept it.
    The Movie W Super Reviewer

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