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Posted on July 25, 2019

Visible Disability: Talking Freaks (1932)

Elizabeth Erwin

On today’s episode, we’re heading back to 1932 with Tod Browning’s controversial film, Freaks. The behind the scenes story of a sideshow carnival, Browning cast real-life carnival performers with visible disabilities to mixed reaction. Both celebrated as an example of pre-Code horror and reviled as exploitation, this is, to put it mildly, a divisive film. But why?

We’re exploring depictions of disability in horror in this episode and asking what it is about Freaks, specifically, that audiences find so triggering so stay tuned.


British Board of Film Classification, Freaks.

“Freaks”The New York Times. The New York Times Company. July 9, 1932

Smith, Angela. Hideous Progeny: Disability, eugenics, and classic horror cinema. Columbia University Press, 2012.

Whittington-Walsh, Fiona. “From freaks to savants: Disability and hegemony from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) to Sling Blade (1997).” Disability & Society 17.6 (2002): 695-707.

You can rent or buy Freaks here:

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