Posts Tagged ‘Class struggle

13
Oct
15

The Invisible Man (1933)

invisiblemanposterWhile I would undoubtedly call myself a fan of horror films, I am by no means an expert. There are many, many holes in my horror knowledge, in part because I got started late, and in part because there is just so much stuff out there. The good news is, every year has an October, and October is just the perfect time to fill in some of those holes. When thinking about which movies to pick for 31 Days of Horror this year, James Whale’s The Invisible Man was one of the first to spring to mind.

Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) is a dedicated scientist working under Dr. Cranley’s tutelage. He and his colleague Dr. Arthur Kemp both have taken a shine to Cranley’s daughter, Flora. It seems as though Flora and Griffin have a thing going on, but even so, he can’t help but feel inadequate. Compared to Kemp, he is poor, and worries that he won’t be able to adequately provide for Flora should they ever marry. This is probably only part of Griffin’s motivation for perfecting a serum that turns him invisible, thereby giving him incredible power and the ability to take over the world!

Well, it's tough to eat through all those bandages.

Well, it’s tough to eat through all those bandages.

The only trouble with the serum? He can’t perfect the antidote. So he moseys on over to an inn during a snowstorm and demands a room. The crowd there is a little taken aback, and Jenny Hall (Una O’Connor) the lady of the establishment doesn’t quite know how to deal with his temper, or the fact that he’s covered in bandages. But they leave the man to his work for a few days. But he is soon behind on rent and still hasn’t figured out the antidote situation. Here, Griffin’s anger gets the best of him, and he storms out of the place leaving a few poor, injured souls behind.

So, he goes to the only place he can think of for help: Kemp’s home. But rather than being apologetic and asking for help, Griffin threatens Kemp if he doesn’t do as he says. Kemp tries his best to get Cranley and the police involved, but they are no match for a crazed, arrogant invisible man. Or are they?

Una O'Connor has no idea what to do with this invisible man!

Una O’Connor has no idea what to do with this invisible man!

This movie is so much fun. I should have known; everything else I’ve watched by Whale has had both a darkness and a sense of humor about it, and this film is no exception. Dr. Jack Griffin is only slightly sympathetic; only in the scenes with Flora where we see his vulnerability to we feel anything like pity towards the guy. The rest of the time he is incredibly bombastic and pompous, which leads to a lot of hilarious moments, frankly. But the best and funniest moments are those with Una O’Connor, who also delighted me in Bride of Frankenstein. While I guess you could call her performance a bit over-the-top, I think it definitely adds to the air of incredulity that’s already present in this film. I mean, how would you react if there was an invisible man running about?

But aside from all that stuff, what’s really impressive to me here is of course the special effects. Sure, you can see a wire here and there, but that’s not the point. Nor does it detract from the ultimate effect: it really looks like that bike is riding itself, for instance. I’m no expert in the evolution of movie effects, but I know that what these guys did here was really damn impressive for 1933. Hell, it’s impressive to me even

The Invisible Man taunts his victims!

The Invisible Man taunts his victims!

today. I could take a million stills from this movie that made me say “wow, that looks so cool!” Just knowing how hard the effects crew must have worked to make the film look this way leaves me super impressed with the final output.

So, yeah, The Invisible Man is funny, impressive and also quite scary, when you think about its implications. As I’m sure I’ve said before, sometimes old-timey flicks are a hard sell for me. I typically have difficulty getting into the brains of characters from older movies, especially the female characters. Sure enough, Flora the love interest is just about as damsel-in-distressy as you’d expect from a 1933 flick. Even so, the insertion of humor in this movie really helps alleviate some of those issues for me. The lightened tone is a good reminder that not everything is so darn serious, and doesn’t have to be read that way. If you’re a horror fan, I definitely recommend this. A great watch!

22
Oct
14

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

For day 19 of 31 Days of Horror, we decided to keep it Corman, only this time we watched one he actually directed: A Bucket of Blood. Starring Dick Miller as an aspiring artist, A Bucket of Blood takes a deep look into the underground world of the 1950’s beatnik. Okay, not really; it’s just a thoroughly silly but totally enjoyable exploitation flick.

It ain't easy being an artist, man...

It ain’t easy being an artist, man…

Walter Paisley (Miller) is a broke-ass busboy at The Yellow Door, the hip hangout for all the local beatniks. Poets, musicians, painters, sculptors, you name it: they all hang here, man. Sometimes, Walter gets a little too wrapped up in the poets’ pondering and forgets to bus the coffee cups. His boss Leonard is always on his ass about it. Carla, Leonard’s girlfriend/business partner/something is less tough on Walter, which may be why he harbors a devastating crush on her.

Anyway, another tough night at The Yellow Door is over, and Walter comes home to a can of cold beans and a screeching cat. But tonight is slightly different than most nights, because he’s also come home to a virgin package of clay, just waiting for his talentless hands to mold it into art. Unfortunately, Walter quickly discovers that he’s no artist at all. In his frustration, he blindly stabs at the wall in his apartment, accidentally killing the kindly cat he and his landlady care for. Suddenly Walter thinks of a great way to use all that clay he just got…

What lies beneath Walter's Art?

What lies beneath Walter’s Art?

Having created a wonderful masterpiece out of clay and cat corpse, Walter excitedly brings his art to The Yellow Door. Leonard is suspicious of the piece, but Carla just loves it and so they put it on display. Suddenly, the Beats start seeing Walter in a different light; they have real conversations with him instead of just asking him to take away their dirty dishes! But Leonard won’t be convinced until he creates another work of art, and that’s when the real carnage begins.

A Bucket of Blood is a short and sweet little exploitation horror movie. Its jabs at beat poetry are hilarious and spot-on; “Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of Art” Maxwell, one of The Yellow Door’s resident poets bellows. Walter takes those words, and everything else the artists utter, to heart. As he slathers clay onto his dead victims, he mutters the words verbatim. He wants so badly to be one of them, he goes to lethal lengths to achieve what they would consider greatness. And who wouldn’t want to graduate from forgotten busboy to revered artist?

I honestly don’t think a film like this would accidentally fall into the wrong hands. If you’ve rented or bought A Bucket

Walter is King of the Yellow Door!

Walter is King of the Yellow Door!

of Blood the chances are you know exactly what you’re in for: a silly little horror flick. That being said, it is a tad smarter than I’d usually expect out of such films, and that makes it all the more enjoyable. On top of all that, Dick Miller is so much fun to watch as Walter! Poor Walter just does not get it; he doesn’t understand what talent is, what art is, and hell, why would he when all he does is watch talentless, navel-gazing hacks stroke each-others’ egos?

Anyway, if this sounds like your bag, dig it, man. It is bad. Unlike Walter’s art, it knows it’s bad. And it is so damn good at being bad. Thank you, Mr. Corman.

15
Oct
14

Raw Meat (1973)

This actually isn’t the first time I’ve written up Raw Meat, the film we chose for the 15th day of 31 Days of Horror. When I started this blog ages ago, my intent was to only write up schlocky shit shows. In my experience, muddling through a bunch of crappy horror films is kind of a tough job; I’ve definitely watched more worthless pieces of crap than hidden gems in my day. But, the hidden gems are so great that I thought it would be worthwhile to act as a resource for dorks like myself to find out whether or not a b-movie was good enough to gamble on. Then I watched Raw Meat, wrote up what I thought was a stupid post, deleted it and didn’t write again for three years or so. That’s a long way to get the point across that I wish I hadn’t deleted that post, because writing a post a day for October is getting tough! But I’m gonna power through guys, I’m gonna do my best!

Patricia returns to her cold-hearted American boy after a lover's quarrel.

Patricia returns to her cold-hearted American boy after a lover’s quarrel.

Alex and Patricia are a young couple in love hitching a ride home on the London Underground. Alex is an American asshole who doesn’t want to help a possibly dying man passed out on the stairs; just a drunk, he says. Patricia is a kindlier Brit, who insists they inform security of the sick man. After rushing back, security in tow, the mysterious man is gone. They checked his wallet to make sure he wasn’t a diabetic (“they have cards, you know”) so at least they know the guy’s name; and this guy wasn’t just your Average Joe. What would an OBE be doing passed out on the steps of a subway station, or taking the subway at all? At least that’s the first question Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence) asks the troubled couple.

Donald Pleasance enjoys a cuppa.

Donald Pleasence enjoys a cuppa.

But Calhoun knows the couple haven’t done anything wrong. No, something much darker and more disturbing is going on in London’s subway system. Calhoun has a hunch it may have something to do with an abandoned construction project from years ago; the private company funding the operation went bankrupt right at the moment when an avalanche trapped its workers, both men and women, underground. They couldn’t afford to save the workers, and the station, in the end, was never built. Instead, what became the Underground known today was built atop it. There couldn’t still be survivors, could there? That would be impossible, right?

She couldn't be happy underground.

She couldn’t be happy underground.

Wrong, of course: turns out the forgotten workers had turned into plagued Morlocks. The last of their clan just lost the soon-to-be mother of his child, and he’s hungry for blood – and for a new mate! If only Alex hadn’t left Patricia alone in that tube station…

Raw Meat is a surprisingly good little horror flick, though I must say it was not as good the second time around. I think that’s all because my expectations were so damn low the first time I saw it that I was totally surprised it was a competently made movie. The next time around I was showing it to Q, and usually when I’m showing a movie to someone I get super-critical about it: ‘does this person like this movie?,’ ‘Gosh, that scene was too long!’ or ‘god damn this movie is trying really hard to make Donald Pleasence look like a quirky cop!’

Did I forget to mention Christopher Lee's cameo? I guess that's 'cause it's literally like two-minutes long.

Did I forget to mention Christopher Lee’s cameo? I guess that’s ’cause it’s literally like two-minutes long.

In the end, Raw Meat is definitely worthwhile, but of course I’d say that; it’s a film about a bunch of forgotten workers who died doing their job, all at the hands of the greedy corporation that put them there in the first place. Those that didn’t die survived to become the terror of the urbanites riding the very system built over their living graves! A pretty great idea for a horror film, but the execution is a bit lacking. The story is slow in parts, particularly the scenes underground. It’s clear that the filmmakers are very proud of their make-up and special effects departments, but the scenes are so dark, sometimes it’s hard to make it out. Perhaps the blu-ray looks a bit better than the DVD version I’ve got. Either way, it’s definitely a perfect candidate for any Halloween party!

13
Oct
14

Thirst (1979)

How familiar are you with your ancestry? In this day and age, it isn’t as important as it may have been historically, right? That is unless you are Kate Davis, the female lead in Day 12’s selection of 31 Days of Horror, Thirst! Turns out her lineage is very important, indeed; maybe not to her, but definitely to a group of elite aristocrats who need her DNA to bolster their power over society! 
Mrs. Barker tries (for like five seconds) to convince Kate to come to the dark side.

Mrs. Barker tries (for like five seconds) to convince Kate to come to the dark side.

To you and me, it would seem Miss Davis (Chantal Contouri) is just like any other ordinary person, although she is perhaps a little more well-off than most. She works hard, and has earned the extended vacation she’s about to take. Unfortunately her boyfriend Derek is unable to go with her, but she’s an independent woman of today and will enjoy her vacation nonetheless. But of course, she never makes it to her destination; on her way out the door she is kidnapped and taken to a remote complex in the Australian countryside where horrible things happen…

After coming to, Kate is informed that she is related to the one and only Elizabeth Báthory (The Countess’s second appearance this October). Her bloodline affords her a cushy spot atop “The Brotherhood,” an elite and secret society of aristocratic bloodsuckers. If only she could let go of her pesky morals, she could join forces with other aristocratic, bloodthirsty families to create a powerhouse that the anemic proletariat could never overcome.
They're even getting Kate's cat into the mix.

They’re even getting Kate’s cat into the mix.

Unfortunately for The Brotherhood, Kate is a headstrong and independent woman, and converting her will not be an easy task. The higher-ups of the group are fighting about the best way to help her in changing her mind. Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron) favors an extremely aggressive approach, using hallucinatory drugs to achieve her goals. Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings) believes this tactic will be not only very expensive, but may also drive Kate crazy. Both of them try talking sense into Kate, showing her around the “farm” and introducing her to the “blood-cows” (human livestock) that are privileged enough to donate their life force to vampiric royalty. Is Kate strong enough to resist the her inherited Thirst?

Ah, milking the blood-cows. What a privilege!

Ah, milking the blood-cows. What a privilege!

I’ve seen Thirst three times now, and every time I’ve been impressed with it. It is a serious vampire movie that seriously critiques modern society, but I never felt like it was selling ideology. While films like Society and They Live tackle similar territory, they have a hell of a lot more laughs than Thirst does. Usually I’d say that’s a hefty nail in a film’s coffin, but director Rod Hardy really makes it work here. Perhaps part of the reason why it works so well is instead of a usual black and white, poor vs. rich situation, the main conflict is actually between rich folks themselves. This isn’t just a film about rich people literally sucking the life out of the lower classes, it’s also about indoctrinating other rich folks deemed worth to come to their side. That’s what makes this movie a little more interesting to me: it’s not really saying much to show that the aristocracy makes its living (and derives its pleasure) from the lower classes; it’s been that way for centuries. But exploring the infighting between the rich themselves, at least in terms of how the lower classes are treated, is less-covered and more interesting territory.

Bloody chicken!

Bloody chicken!

So, yes, Thirst has a lot to say, and I think it says it well. It also looks great; the special effects (well, okay, the blood) is super-duper, and for the most part not too in-your-face (though perhaps the shower scene is a little bit much… it also explains why I let the water run for a second before hopping in!). There are some genuinely frightening scenes as the good doctors push their psychological agenda on Kate. Watching her constantly tortured expression while also wondering what the hell is going on is a pretty good fright-cocktail, and Contouri does an excellent job of earning my empathy. I do think, though, Shirley Cameron’s Mrs. Barker outshines her with one of the most gleefully evil portrayals I’ve ever seen; a real rich bitch I took an immense pleasure in hating!

Yes, you should see Thirst. If you have any real interest in a different sort of vampire tale, this is your guy. It’s not subtle, but why the hell would you look for a subtle vampire flick?
05
Oct
14

Society (1989)

In keeping with the golly-gee-80’s-horror-movies-had-great-special-effects theme, Day 5 of 31 Days of Horror continues with Brian Yuzna’s directorial debut, Society. Usually when I hear Yuzna’s name, I cringe just a little bit. I haven’t seen too much of his stuff, and judging by the internet’s opinion, what I have seen is not the good stuff. The Dentist comes to mind as one big fat mistake. But hey, we all make mistakes, and everyone deserves a second (third, fourth) chance, right?
The perfect Beverly Hills family

The perfect Beverly Hills family

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a rich teen living in Beverly Hills, but he’s always had the sense that he doesn’t quite belong there – not amongst his friends, and especially not his family. The older he gets, the more he starts to believe that he’s adopted. His parents seem to have a special affinity with his sister Jenny that they just don’t share with him. Right around the time of Jenny’s coming-out party, the situation seems to come to a head. His shrink doesn’t really have much advice to offer him, except to pump him full of drugs and tell him that he’s paranoid. All that paranoia starts to gel when a friend of his takes a tape recording of his family, where they say some very strange and shocking things to one another, alluding to family orgies and cannibalism! But when Bill plays the tape for his therapist, it just sounds like a normal, wholesome family conversation about how sad everyone is Bill can’t make Jenny’s party. Either there’s an intricate conspiracy going on or young Bill is losing his mind!

Hell-bent on discovering the truth, Bill charges home unexpectedly only to find his family involved in some very outrageous behavior. This movie has one of the most surprising and bizarre endings I’ve ever seen. I didn’t know too much about what to expect when I started watching it, so its desire to shock worked 100% on me. What starts off as a pretty normal teen coming-of-age movie ends with one of the most gloriously gooey and disgusting scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I don’t want to spoil too much, but if you are sensitive to viscous fluids you might want to keep a blindfold handy. 
Mama's got a brand new hand

Mama’s got a brand new hand

It’s difficult to continue writing about Society without giving away some of its best secrets, so if you haven’t seen it and you like surprises, read no further. What Bill finds at this party is all of Beverly Hills’ most elite nouveau riche preparing to dine upon the lower classes, literally sucking the life out of the poor. Screaming Mad George’s special effects are a sight to behold; something like twenty minutes of pure gross-out slimy excess that makes the whole film worth watching (because admittedly, the first half of the film seems to drag a bit). Turns out his parents aren’t his parents at all, and that Bill was reared from childhood to serve as a special feast for the rich. Comparisons to John Carpenter’s They Live are not unfounded; it’s basically the same message, only here the rich are simply a different, superior species than you and me instead of aliens! 

It probably comes as no surprise to those of you acquainted with my politics that I loved the ending. Just like They Live, the film’s commentary on life in Reagan’s America is just as relevant today; perhaps even more so. We live in a

I'm glad she's not *my* sister

I’m glad she’s not *my* sister

time where corporations merge and grow to gargantuan, powerful proportions, paying their CEOs 300 times what they pay the automatons that work on the bottom rung. The idea that behind closed doors these privileged assholes literally feast on our flesh is depressing and hilarious at the same time. I think that particularly is what I like so much about its presentation: it is so gloriously excessive that we can’t help but laugh, even if the meaning behind it is painfully true. 

Though the special effects are awesome, the rest of the movie is weighed down by its inherent b-ness; the acting leaves something to be desired, the pacing is a bit frustrating and the soundtrack is noticeably shitty – in fact, I think a new score would improve this movie a whole bunch. But the film’s ultimate message and special effects make up for all of this. Another aspect I really liked about this movie is that it is a coming-of-age film from a boy’s perspective. For some reason, it seems all the coming-of-age stuff I’ve seen in the last few years revolves around girls and their first period, so a boy finding out he was born into a family of flesh-eaters is refreshing, to say the least. 
18
Sep
14

Streets of Fire (1984)

Do you like the 1950’s and the 1980’s and just can’t decide between the two? No problem, there’s a movie for that! Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire doesn’t feel the need to define its setting in space or time. It is, after all, a “rock and roll fable;” a tale of love and drama so unrealistic and over-the-top it just wouldn’t make sense to give it a familiar setting. We’re notified right off the bat we’re going to be spending the next 93-minutes in “a different place, a different time,” and certainly these Streets of Fire don’t look like any I’ve ever seen…

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous... Ellen Aim...

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous… Ellen Aim…

Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a local singer whose star is about to sky-rocket; she’s got an amazing stage presence and she’s screwing her producer, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). Everyone in town flocks to the club when she’s on the stage. What could go wrong? The Bombers, that’s what! Within the first five minutes of the film, Ellen takes the stage, rocks the crowd and is kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). The thugs steal her away to “the Battery;” the part of town where nice folks like you and me just don’t go. Not only do they manage to take her without a problem, they leave havoc in their wake; it seems like The Bombers can just take whatever they want without consequence. Or can they?

Bombers come to town

Bombers come to town

Oh, hell no they can’t, says Reva Cody, as she pulls up a typewriter and pleads for her brother Tom (Michael Paré) to come home and kick ass. See, Tom and Ellen used to have a real hot and heavy relationship, but Ellen’s career-driven nature didn’t jive well with Tom’s bad-boy attitude, and the couple just had to call it quits. Upon his return, Tom is reluctant to scour the depths of the Battery to save a woman who left a nasty taste in his mouth, but Reva’s plaintive eyes and Billy Fish’s $10,000 endorsement help change his mind.

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Tom’s going to need help. A trunk-full of artillery is a good start, but he’s going to need a trusty second to get him through the worst of it. Good thing Tom has stumbled upon McCoy (Amy Madigan), a brash, no-nonsense female mechanic freshly home from the military herself, looking for a place to sleep and a job to do. McCoy’s proven herself quite the badass (though anyone can punch Bill Paxton in the face, amirite?), and trustworthy, too, so Tom brings her along. And whether or not he likes it, Billy Fish is coming, too! Can this unlikely trio really go into the depths of urban decay and save Ellen?

When doesn't Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

When doesn’t Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

This movie is an incredibly delightful way to spend an hour and a half. As I mentioned before, the setting is fantastic in the sense that the total package bears little resemblance to any reality you or I are familiar with. This is no secret; from the very beginning we are well informed that we shouldn’t be asking too many questions in regards to the plot’s plausibility. And although the setting is unfamiliar in total, elements are lifted from all your favorite twentieth-century eras. Each character seems to be set in their own space and time; most of the Bombers are reminiscent of the 1950’s (though I’m not sure who ever wore that pleather onesie Dafoe dons halfway through the flick; yowza! Does dude work in an abattoir?) while Ellen is definitely a woman of the 1980’s, basking in synth-pop and eyeshadow. Then there’s Tom, who seems to be set apart from all the other characters wearing clothes and driving vehicles reminiscent of those you’d find in the 1920’s. The end-result is a pleasantly disorienting cast of anachronisms that all somehow manage to work together.

WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WEARING DUDES???

WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WEARING DUDES???

Personally, I think this is a genius way to keep the audience on board with the crazy plot that is about to unfold. There’s no need for the setting to be authentic or true to any one moment in time, because this is a story that just wouldn’t have happened. Like, ever. And maybe that’s why I like Streets of Fire more than other musicals like West Side Story or Grease; they’re so concerned with some measure of weird authenticity, and yet they’re fucking musicals. Like I’m supposed to believe these people just break out into song all the time, but god forbid the audience should question the authenticity of Maria’s clothes, or Rydell High’s school dance? Why is spontaneous song a more acceptable movie trope than Hill’s weird melange of historical trademarks? Now, I know, Streets of Fire is not a musical, but I still think it’s worth comparing it to one; not only is its drama similar to what you’d find in a musical, but the film itself is rooted heavily in music (songs by Ry Cooder, anyone?). I’m officially calling it the unmusical musical. But anyway, I digress…

You guys, it's a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

You guys, it’s a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

Clearly, I’m fixated on the weird setting in which Streets of Fire takes place, but fear not folks, there’s plenty of other weird stuff in store for you! The plot itself is bonkers; how is it so easy for this gang of greasers to waltz into a nightclub and kidnap the star of the show, and while she’s on stage no less? You know, like, in front of everyone? Is this a town full of wusses or what? And the thought of Billy Fish accompanying two badasses with nothing to lose into the sixth circle of hell for a woman who is really just eye candy to him, well that’s not really believable either. Weirder still are the relationships these people all have with one another, most notably Tom and Ellen’s. I’ve never met people that talk this way to each-other, which leads me to think Hill set this film not just in another place and time, but another solar system.streetsoffirelastkiss

I want to be clear about something, while I really like Streets of Fire, I don’t think I could go and say it’s actually a good movie. Worthwhile, yes. Entertaining, you betcha… but good? Not a chance in hell. But, I don’t think it wants to be good. There’s no Oscar bait here, and there’s a lot to be said for a film that wears its weirdness on its sleeve while also trying to appeal to everyone and no one at the same time. The biggest disappointment about the film for me is the fact that Diane Lane is pretty much wasted in this role. After having just recently watched Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains for the first time and realizing how good Lane is at playing a put-out badass, I expected more out of her performance here. Unfortunately, she just isn’t given much to work with; she’s little more than a damsel in distress with a bad attitude. You can do better than that with Diane Lane! But anyway, I do recommend seeing Streets of Fire, just remember to let your mind go free and that anything can happen in Walter Hill’s world!

05
Aug
14

Freaks (1932)

FreaksPosterDear readers, welcome to Schlock Wave’s 300th post! I never thought we’d make it this far, especially given the forty-film backlog that sits mockingly on my computer’s desktop, but here we are. Having so many films to choose from I felt I had to pick the one that was just right for #300, and the choice was quite easy. While the films covered on this blog are by no means consistently cult-y, b, or horror, that was my initial intent, and as a result I felt Tod Browning’s Freaks was a most appropriate choice for this landmark post. So, here goes, and thanks for reading!

I’m not quite sure how I first caught wind of Freaks. How the heck did anyone learn about anything before the internet? The answer is probably USA’s Up All Night, or some other such nonsense that has, for good or for ill, shaped the person I am today. At any rate, I probably didn’t know the weight of what I was watching the first time I saw it. As an adult with the wisdom of a small handful of decades behind me (and a husband who teaches a cult film class) I have at least some sense of the importance of Freaks in the cult film canon. That adds an interesting bit to the brain while watching Freaks today, and ultimately makes it a more interesting movie than it would be standing on its own.

The film tells the story of Cleopatra, a beautiful but detestable trapeze artist traveling with a carnival. She’s having a torrid and secret love affair with Hercules the strong man, and together they laugh and mock the sideshow freaks. But publicly, Cleopatra claims to love Hans, a little person with a large inheritance. Despite the fact that Hans is quite loved by his fiancee (another little person) Frieda, he ignores her and the warnings of the other ‘freaks’ and agrees to marry Cleopatra.

Although Hans’ cohort has their suspicions about Cleopatra, the flowing champagne must have got to their collective head, and in an effort to show they have embraced Cleopatra in all her normalcy, they offer her up a toast. Their chant of “We accept her, we accept her! One of us! One of us! Gobble-gobble!” is anything but welcoming to the nasty Cleopatra, and she flips the fuck out, throwing wine in their faces and shouting about how disgusting they are. But Hans sticks with her, and though she mocks him and his crew, he heads back to the wagon with his new wife.

It doesn’t take much for the freaky crew, and Hans himself, to discover that Cleopatra is slowly trying to poison Hans to death. Hercules has plans of his own for some of the nosier “normals” who are sympathetic to the freaks. Once the freaks catch wind of it all, they plan their final, horrible revenge: as the carnival heads out to their next destination, under cover of storm, they amass and attack the nasty Cleopatra and turn her into a freak show of epic proportions.

I think it is pretty safe to say that Freaks is the quintessential cult film, not just because its subject matter relegates it to the weirder corners of film, but also because its main focus can arguably be said to describe its audience. After all, we’re the rejected weirdos who sought out such a thing. What’s freakier than wanting to watch a bunch of freaks band together and exact a terrible revenge on an uppity normal?

That, of course, could not have been Browning’s objective in making this film. But what was? Browning himself joined the circus at a young age, so perhaps part of what he wanted to show his audience was that a carnival’s sideshow freaks are just as normal as you and me; they eat, sleep, dream, and love. This would explain Browning’s focus on the ‘freaks’ going about their everyday lives (rolling cigarettes with their mouths because they have no limbs, using a fork with their toes because they have no arms, etc.) eating up a lot of screen time. In the end, though, it feels pretty exploitative, like the sideshow itself must have been, and certainly marks Freaks a product of its era. A film such as this couldn’t be made today, at least not in the same ways, and if it were, it would most likely be reviled by all, even perhaps the small subset of cultists who were meant to embrace it.

But if Browning had intended to humanize these ‘freaks,’ why then would he turn them into vengeful monsters at the end? And really, does it matter what Browning’s intention was? I would argue it’s the cult audience that lends the true meaning to a film. And while I wouldn’t dare speak for an entire group of people, I will venture to say I’m probably not the only one to cheer when the freaks overtake Cleopatra and indeed make her “one of us.” And being the type of person who actively attempts to convert “normal” people into freaks every day by forcing them to sit down and watch a cult film, of course I’d celebrate Cleopatra’s metamorphosis!




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