Tod Browning’s 1932 Pre-Code classic Freaks is usually labelled a horror movie, but we’d argue that it’s actually an incredibly tender tale of betrayal, friendship and unrequited love. Browning cast real sideshow performers in most all of the supporting roles (and even a few leads), and the sideshow performers are portrayed far more sympathetically than the so-called “normal” characters. It was in part the unexpected humanization of the circus performers that made the film so shocking to contemporary audiences, who were particularly horrified by an infamous scene in which the outsiders band together to avenge one of their brothers. We’ll stop writing now, as Open Culture is a spoiler-free zone.
Freaks is also notable for its encephalitic scene-stealer Simon Metz, aka Schlitzie, who is cited as the inspiration for the underground 70′s comic, Zippy the Pinhead. You can watch a touching tribute to the beloved performer here.
Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.