Freaks is considered one of the most controversial films of all time because the entire Hollywood community was shocked when it was revealed that director Tod Browning insisted on casting real circus performers with deformities for the film. And even though the movie was significantly cut from 90 minutes to 64 minutes after test-screening audience found it too harsh and grotesque, the final cut of the film still ended up getting banned in some countries at the time of its release.
Though Freaks received critical backlash upon its initial theatrical run, several critics, in retrospect, wrote that the movie actually presents a sympathetic depiction of its sideshow characters rather than an exploitative one. Renowned film critic Andrew Sarris even declared Freaks as one of the “most compassionate” ever made.
Loosely based on Tod Robbin’s 1923 short story Spurs, Freaks follows trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) who joins a group of carnival sideshow performers with a plan to seduce and murder the troupe’s circus midget Hans (Harry Earles) to gain his inheritance and run off with her lover, strong man Hercules (Henry Victor). When Hans and his fellow performers discover what’s going on, they band together and carry out a brutal revenge that leaves Cleopatra and Hercules knowing what it truly means to be a freak.