This remarkable film has been released on DVD. The Onion has a review:
Of the many colorful reviews Tod Browning’s Freaks prompted upon its 1932 release, few captured the film’s unique quality as aptly as these lines from The Boston Herald: “It is the sort of thing that, once seen, lurks in the dark places of the mind, cropping up every so often with a dourful persistence.” Oddly enough, the Herald didn’t mean this as an endorsement.
Tod Browning had spent time in a circus as a clown among other things, and knew many of the film’s actors. When the film came out it was considered rather disturbing by critics and audiences alike. MGM pulled the movie from theaters and it destroyed Tod Browning’s career.
Freaks is considered a horror movie classic, which may not be the appropriate genre for this film, horror films usually involve creatures who don’t act out of psychological motivations, they attack because its their nature to do so. While the “freaks” are examples of nature’s might, the film spends a lot of time with the freaks and treats them like characters– they go on dates, go on picnics, smoke cigarettes. The incredibly scary chase scene at the end is filmed to make the freaks look heroic and not the “normals.” This is not a film that treats its subjects with the touchy-feely kindness of a Mask, nor are they the devil of The Omen. Maybe that is what critics and audiences found so disturbing.
Freaks has inspired such diverse folks as the Kids in the Hall, with their chicken lady character, Bunuel and David Lynch.