Tod Browning's Freaks Did Sideshow Horror Before It Was Cool

Tod Browning's Freaks is an interesting film both on and off the screen. For one, this 80-minute story of a collection of characters in a freakshow raised lots of controversy when it originally premiered in 1932, primarily because its actors were actual circus "freaks." The film was so widely panned and controversial (needing extensive edits to even be screenable), the legendary director Browning never quite recovered as a director from the cinematic disaster.

But like many films carelessly tossed aside in the early decades of cinema, the film was rediscovered in the 1960s as a counterculture piece and quickly gained a cult following. The film is billed as a "horror" film but filled with various romantic entanglements, and since it features actual sideshow workers from that period, it's also a pseudo-documentary.

This upcoming season of American Horror Story features a cadre of sideshow types though FX's TV series puts the horror front-and-center. Seriously, have you seen those trailers? Each one is like a 10-second nightmare.

Freaks is a cinematic ancestor to the circus horror of today and was the first bold cinematic take on the macabre subject. Although it cost its director his career, modern viewers reap the benefits. Freaks is available for streaming on TCM until Sept. 20th. [TCM]

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