This little chant comes from one of the most controversial horror films in cinematic history – Tod Browning’s cult classic, entitled Freaks. I say that the film is controversial because it effectively ended Tod Browning’s career after its release, repulsed critics and audiences alike, and was banned in the U.K. for thirty years. Even though Freaks was released in the Pre-Code era, it was still heavily censored. Ultimately, thirty minutes were cut from the film – thirty minutes which we will probably never see again, as this footage is considered lost.
The story concerns a circus sideshow dwarf named Hans, who falls in love with a trapeze artist named Cleopatra. Hans has inherited a small fortune and constantly purchases extravagant gifts for the woman, who is plotting a manipulative scheme with the strongman named Hercules. The other sideshow performers know that Cleopatra is an evil temptress, and they attempt to warn Hans on several occasions, but he is blinded by Cleopatra’s beauty. “She is the most beautiful big woman I’ve ever seen,” Hans tells his friend, Frieda.
Cleopatra eventually seduces and marries Hans, much to the disapproval of the others. During the wedding celebration, Hans friends attempt to make peace with her by way of a ceremonial toast, chanting “Gooble gobble, gooble gobble, we will make her one of us!” This is an offer that Cleopatra vehemently refuses. She humiliates Hans at the dinner, mocking him and his friends, calling them “freaks”. Later, she apologizes to Hans. Things seem normal for a while, but little does Hans know that Cleopatra plans on slowly killing him in an attempt to inherit all of his money. But the others know exactly what is going on. Cleopatra does not know that the so-called “freaks” live by a code: “Offend one of us, offend us all.”
She’s about to find out. Cleopatra is the true freak of the film, only she doesn’t “look” the part...not yet, that is.
Freaks is not your typical horror film, and while it is exploitative, the film has lots of heart. Before becoming a filmmaker, Tod Browning was a member of a traveling circus who worked with sideshow performers on a daily basis. He knew of the cruelties that these people had to endure, and he felt for them. Later on, he would make this film using actual sideshow performers, their deformities on full display. However, the intent is not so much to exploit as it is to present them as human beings who love, who laugh, who struggle like the rest of us, making Freaks just as bittersweet and heartbreaking as it is disturbing.
And it is disturbing. The final sequence in which the “freaks” exact their revenge on Cleopatra and Hercules, crawling and creeping through the mud during a torrential downpour in the middle of the night, is absolutely chilling. Apparently, it was heavily edited, as it horrified the censors to no end. One can only hope that this footage will eventually be discovered and preserved.
After the release of Freaks, Browning’s career would never recover. It’s a shame, because Freaks is truly his masterpiece. It is a horror classic that has earned its place in the history of cinema. There is nothing quite like it. If you have never seen it, by all means, check it out as soon as possible!
Watch the trailer here.