• A Review Page For Those Movies You Watch At Home!

    Couch Potato Movie Reviews is, obviously, a blog that exclusively reviews movies. What makes this blog different is the fact that all of the films we are reviewing are all movies that are available on home movie rental companies such as Redbox, Netflix, Blockbuster, and your quickly disappearing neighborhood rental store. This blog is designed to take a more detailed look at those movies that either were sent straight to DVD, received a very limited release in the theaters, or were distributed through the art house or film festival circuit. We will also review those big Hollywood films, but only after they are available for home viewing.

    All the reviews are written by fans of the great art of film making rather than some newspaper reviewer or stuffy film student. We don’t know everything about film but we do know what we like, and we are more than happy to share our opinions with you. What you do with those opinions are totally up to you, although comments are welcome and encouraged.

    Each film review has a one to five star rating at the end of the critique. Here is what those star ratings mean for you couch potatoes:

    * * * * * : Five stars: go and buy this one, don’t just rent it!

    * * * * : Four stars: put this at the top of your rental list.

    * * * : Three stars: average, not bad just not great either.

    * * : Two stars: only rent if you have to see everything.

    * : One star: don’t waste your time with this.

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TITLE: Freaks

YEAR: 1932

GENRE: Drama and Horror

AKA: Nature’s Mistakes, Forbidden Love, The Monster Show

Some films are famous for being masterpieces of cinematic arts while other films are famous for being terrible. However, it takes a truly interesting and unique film project that is famous for being infamous. Tod Browning decided to follow-up his 1931 classic Dracula with a film that he felt would be even more frightening to the movie going public than Frankenstein. The problem that Browning discovered was that his tactics of using controversial topics for his project combined the most unusual cast ever assembled for a project before or since was too much of a freak out for the American public and MGM Studios quickly buried the project. That film would be Freaks, one of the most controversial films ever produced yet is an excellent example of a simple story of love and revenge told in a twisted and truly creative new way.

Cleopatra (played by Olga Baclanova) is a self-serving trapeze artist who joins a traveling circus. While working with the traveling sideshow she meets performer Hans (Harry Earles), a little person who will soon receive a hefty inheritance. Cleopatra starts to date Hans and has him convinced that she wishes to marry him, but she is also sleeping with circus strongman Hercules (Henry Victor) on the side. Cleopatra and her lover make plans have the conniving lady to tie the know with the little person so that she can steal the money and the plotting twosome can run away and live happily ever after. When circus performer Venus (Lela Hyams) over hears the plan, she reports it to Hans and the rest of the circus performers of Cleopatra’s diabolical plans. The result is the circus sideshow performers delivering a unique brand of justice not seen in the normal world.

What makes Freaks so unique compared to just about every film ever made is that Browning combed every corner he could to find legitimate circus freaks to play parts in his films. Some of the most memorable performers in this film spent their careers in roadside attractions as sideshow freak attractions, including the following: Violet and Daisy Hilton, a real set of conjoined twins; Zip (Elvira Snow) and Pip (Jenny Lee Snow),  sisters suffering from microcephalics, also known as Pinhead disease; and Prince Randian, the “human torso” who was born without arms or legs. With a unique cast such a this, there are some incredibly memorable scenes such as when Koo-Koo The Bird Girl who suffered from Virchow-Seckel Syndrome (bird-headed dwarfism) dancing on a table at a celebration and when Prince Randian rolls, lights, and smokes a cigarette with only his tongue, and both scenes have to be seen to be believed. Despite the most unusual aspects of humanity portrayed on the screen, it is the “normal” looking people who are the true monsters in the film as they treat their physically and mentally challenged brethren in a deplorable fashion. Browning also does a masterful job developing the circus ‘freaks” as very normal characters with normal needs, wants, and desires. The climatic sequence, which involves the sideshow performers chasing Cleopatra through a raging rainstorm, is a masterfully frightening scene that is the perfect use of atmosphere and situation and could be one of the ten most frightening scenes ever filmed. The ending is especially appalling considering its time of release and will stick in the mind of the viewer even in today’s cult film fan who is used to excessive violence and bloodshed.

Freaks would be nothing but a footnote in film history if it was not for Dwayne Espar, a sideshow promoter who bought the film from MGM and toured it around the country in makeshift tents and advertising the film as an expose of circus performers. This film was the nails in the coffin of  Browning’s directorial career, as he never received any quality work after the release and controversy of Freaks. Over 70 years after its initial banning, Warner Brothers stepped to the plate and released a loving restoration of Freaks including a documentary of the film’s unique history. Freaks is one of the most unique entries in any film genre and is a fascinating look at Coney Island-style attractions and a deep look at the soul of the human condition. This film was originally criticized for its exploitative nature, but the question remains as to whom is being exploited. This film is not for everybody, but it should be obligatory viewing for just about any fan of unusual cinema.

* * * * 1/2



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