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In the 60’s and 70’s if your parents had no imagination or extra time they could buy you a extremely flammable, dangerously hard to see out of mask with accompanying ill-fitting smock. These would come in, not only the old standbys like Frankenstein, Dracula, super heroes and clowns, but also the cultural icons of the day. To see small children in Kabe Caplin “Welcome Back Kotter” costumes or the Leather Guy from The Village People must have been something. How about creatively mind-boggling KFC’s Colonel Sanders, Robin Williams’ Mork, The Fonz, Donny Osmond, all 4 Beatles or Radar O’Reilly from Mash. The real odd-ball costumes were the “THINGS”, i.e. The shark from Jaws, Rubiks Cube, an asteroid from the video game Asteroids and Flipper, to name a very few. These went out of favor in the safety conscious 80’s when it was realized just how dangerous they actually were. Also who really wanted to wear an flammable New Kid’s on the Block, Donny Wahlberg costume anyway.
“From 1972 to 1975, I spent my summers photographing and interviewing women who performed striptease for small town carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. As I followed the girl shows from town to town, I photographed the dancers’ public performances as well as their private lives. I also taped interviews with the dancers, their boyfriends, the show managers, and paying customers.
The women I met ranged in age from seventeen to thirty-five. Most had left small towns, seeking mobility, money and something different from what was prescribed or proscribed by their lives that the carnival allowed them to leave. They were runaways, girlfriends of carnies, club dancers, both transient and professional.
They worked out of a traveling box, a truck that unfolded to form two stages, one opening to the public carnival grounds, another concealed under a tent for a private audience. A dressing room stands between them. Again and again, throughout the day and night, the woman performers moved from the front stage, with its bally call—the talker’s spiel that entices the crowd—to the stage, where they each perform for the duration of a 45 pop record”.
From Susan Meislas’ book “Carnival Strippers” 1976
Ah, the fifties, where a sexy pinup was appropriate for every holiday. This was a time when depictions of nudity was still resigned to the under-the-counter porn mags, but bathing suits and lingerie were completely acceptable and all the rage. A lot of these were promotions for young actresses and even established stars – that’s a young Yvonne DeCarlo (Lily Munster) in a cat suit on a huge pumpkin.
Freaks is a 1932 American Pre-code film (pre Hayes code censorship) in which the title characters were actually played by by sideshow performers with real deformities. Directed and produced by Tod Browning, whose career never recovered really from it. Freaks has been described as standing alone in a subgenre of one.
Because of Browning’s success as the director of Dracula, he was given a considerable leeway for a major studio’s first horror film. In the film, the physically deformed “freaks” are inherently trusting and honorable people, while the real monsters are two of the “normal” members of the circus who conspire to murder one of the performers to obtain his large inheritance.
Among the characters featured as “freaks” were “The Human Skeleton”, “The Bearded Lady”; Frances O’Conner and Martha Morris – The armless wonders”; and conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Among the microcephalics who appear in the film (and are referred to as “pinheads”) were Zip and Pip (Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow) and Schlitzie, a male named Simon Metz who wore a dress mainly due to incontinence. Also featured was Johnny Eck, the legless man; the completely limbless Prince Randian and Koo-Koo – The Bird girl, who had Virchow-Seckel syndrome or bird-headed dwarfism (?!).
Following disastrous test screening in January 1932 (one woman threatened to sue MGM, claiming the film had caused her to suffer a miscarriage), the studio cut the picture down from its original 90-minute running time to just over an hour. Much of the sequence of the freaks attacking Cleopatra (the villain), as she lays under a tree, was removed, as well as a gruesome sequence showing Hercules (The Strong-Man, & Cleopatras lover) being castrated. It’s current running time is just 64 minutes. No matter how much was cut it still managed to negatively effect people and lose money. The Kansas City Star said “There is no excuse for this picture. It took a weak mind to produce it and it takes a strong stomach to look at it.” Harrison Reports – “Any one who considers this entertainment should be placed in the pathological ward in some hospital.” With these kinds of reviews Tod Brownings career was doomed and he would never recover the fame he had pre-Freaks. It is indeed creepy and disturbing and absolutely great. If you’ve seen American Horror Story Freak Show recently you’ll see the impact this film has made (and sort of know how it ends).
THE FINAL REVENGE – CRAWLING IN THE RAIN
This is not the source material for these movies and TV shows, oh no, these are all written after the fact to squeeze one last tiny bit of cash out of the public. Nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t want to read the novelization of, say, Childs Play 3 to get just a bit more exposition about Chuckie’s motives and thought process. I doubt that these are still being written today (though Star Trek and Star Wars both have tons of ‘inspired by’ novels) but from the 60’s through the nineties they were everywhere, most notably the used book bins of Goodwill and Salvation Army.