In a lot of ways Tod Browning was the first visionary for the horror genre. His film featured terrifying characters that were the best for their time, foreboding scores and unsettling mis en scene. Dracula was well-recieved when it came out, but when Freaks was initially released the studio cut a half an hour of the film and disowned the final product.
The cast was essentially made up of actual disfigured people and lends authenticity to the entire film. You would tend to think that as the film goes on the "freaks" are the members of the traveling show, but they are in fact the able-bodied Hercules and the fair Cleopatra.
Hans, the leader of the traveling show, is swept up by the beauty of Cleopatra. Freida, the woman who secretly loves Hans, pleads with Cleopatra not to keep toying with Hans, when she inadvertantly slips that Hans is due to inherit a great fortune. With this knowledge Cleopatra plans on marrying Hans and running away with Hercules, the strong-man of the circus, who she has been having an affair with.
Eventually they are engaged and Cleopatra spends much of the engagement party mocking the other members of the show and poisons Hans' drink. Hans takes ill afterward and, believing him to be dead, Cleopatra tries to run away with Hercules. Hans is revived by a doctor and the freaks, after finding out Cleopatra's nefarious plot to kill Hans and take his money decide to deal with her in the most fitting way possible. I could say more, but the thrilling climax of Freaks must be experienced for yourself.