Freaks (1932)


The movie Freaks (1932) is a horror film directed by Tod Browning, known for his earlier work on Dracula (1931). Set in the world of a traveling circus, the movie Freaks (1932) tells the story of a beautiful trapeze artist named Cleopatra who conspires to marry and murder a wealthy dwarf named Hans for his inheritance. The film is notable for featuring actual carnival performers with real disabilities, rather than actors in makeup, which lends an air of authenticity to its portrayal of the so-called ‘freaks’.

In the vibrant yet shadowy world of a traveling circus, the tale of Freaks (1932) unfolds, where Cleopatra, a trapeze artist of stunning beauty but dubious intent, ensnares the affections of Hans, a sideshow dwarf with a substantial inheritance. Frieda, Hans’s betrothed and also of small stature, watches with dismay as Cleopatra’s machinations unfold. In league with Hercules, the circus’s muscular strongman, Cleopatra plots a deadly scheme to claim Hans’s wealth for herself.

Amidst this central intrigue, love blossoms in the carnival’s eclectic community: the Bearded Lady and the Human Skeleton celebrate the birth of their child, a joyous occasion heralded by the Stork Woman. Violet, one half of a conjoined twin act, finds love with the circus proprietor, even as her sister Daisy’s marriage to Roscoe, the stuttering clown, continues.

Hans, blinded by love, weds Cleopatra, unaware of the poison she slips into his wine. During the wedding revelry, the sideshow performers embrace Cleopatra as one of their own, chanting a peculiar welcome. Yet, Cleopatra’s scornful laughter betrays her contempt, and a cruel jest from Hercules about her becoming a ‘freak’ ignites her fury. She humiliates Hans publicly, but the poisoned groom soon grows ill.

As Hans lies weakened, he feigns forgiveness, all the while conspiring with his fellow ‘freaks’ to exact vengeance on Cleopatra and Hercules. The film’s climax sees Hans and his allies confront Cleopatra, but a tempestuous storm thwarts their initial plan, leading to a harrowing chase through the forest. Concurrently, Hercules seeks to silence Venus, the seal-trainer who knows too much, but her partner Phroso intervenes, and a fierce altercation ensues.

The ‘freaks’ ultimately apprehend Cleopatra, and in a grotesque twist of fate, she is transformed into a monstrous ‘human duck,’ exhibited to aghast carnival-goers. Meanwhile, Hercules’s fate is sealed in a grimly ironic manner befitting his betrayal.

In an alternate conclusion, Hans, now ensconced in his mansion and grappling with his role in Cleopatra’s fate, is comforted by Frieda’s unwavering love and understanding, culminating in a tender embrace that reaffirms their bond.


  • Wallace Ford as Phroso
  • Leila Hyams as Venus
  • Olga Baclanova as Cleopatra
  • Roscoe Ates as Roscoe
  • Henry Victor as Hercules
  • Harry Earles as Hans
  • Daisy Earles as Frieda
  • Daisy Hilton as Siamese Twin
  • Violet Hilton as Siamese Twin
  • Schlitzie as Pinhead
  • Josephine Joseph as Half Woman-Half Man
  • Johnny Eck as Half Boy
  • Frances O’Connor as Armless Girl
  • Peter Robinson as Human Skeleton
  • Olga Roderick as Bearded Lady
  • Koo Koo as Herself
  • Prince Randian as The Living Torso


The film’s original release was met with shock and controversy, leading to it being heavily edited and banned in several countries.

The original version of the movie Freaks (1932) was considered lost for many years until a complete version was discovered in the 1960s, restoring the film’s status as a cult classic.


“The truth about Freaks is that it fails to function on one level—horror or drama—alone, although Browning hoped it would humanize the “freaks” of his film for mainstream audiences, portraying what is different as beautiful, just as Bela Lugosi humanized the vampire in Dracula or Lon Chaney humanized his varied grotesque characters. Still, Freaks is much more than simply a filmic sideshow with human oddities on display for the masses to point at and ridicule, and much more complicated than a one-note horror yarn. The film operates on multiple planes, reviling some viewers and engrossing others.”[4]

“Freaks is a wild ride, but it’s not the monster-trip some say it is. It is macabre and disturbing, but Browning chose to humanize the deformed characters at the movie’s shadowy center, not to demonize them.” [5]


[1] IMDb

[2] Jotted Lines

[3] Wikipedia


Last updated byCody Meirick on December 20, 2023