Tod Browning John Thomas - Essay

John Thomas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Freaks is, in its own way, a minor masterpiece. Certainly it is macabre, and the final sequence in which the freaks stalk and mutilate their victims is enough to scare the hell out of anybody. But the point is that Freaks is not really a horror film at all, though it contains some horrifying sequences. The conventional horror film is one of our responses to the nonhuman element in the world, the incomprehensible objective world that threatens to render life meaningless. The movie monster is the embodiment of the nonhuman, the irrational, the inexplicable. It is through his destruction by fire, sunlight, or crucifix that we are purged of our own fear of the nonhuman. We must therefore identify with the victims of the movie monster, and find our release in the monster's ultimate death. In Freaks we are asked to identify with the ostensibly nonhuman, to turn against what we normally think of as our "own kind" and to discover in the humanity of the freaks a moral center for the universe. (pp. 59-60)

The crucial scenes in the movie are those which show the daily routine of the freaks, the individual adjustment of the freaks to their handicaps being almost clinically observed. We watch the armless woman drink beer from a glass grasped by a prehensile foot; while the human worm, both armless and legless, lights his own cigarettes with his teeth…. It is through these and similar scenes that Browning effects the inversion of values that lies at the heart of the film.

The freaks, as the movie is at pains to point out, live in a world of their own, created...

(The entire section is 662 words.)