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Criterion Blu-ray Review: Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers Revisited

Blu-ray Review: Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers [Criterion]

Tod Browning was a gifted director known for his work in the horror genre. His films often explored themes of the macabre, the bizarre, and the grotesque, and one of his most memorable works is the iconic “Freaks.” Now, thanks to the Criterion Collection, fans can revisit Browning’s unique vision with the release of “Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers” on Blu-ray.

This Criterion edition brings together some of Browning’s most renowned works, showcasing his ability to create unease and captivate audiences with his unconventional subjects. The collection includes not only “Freaks” but also two other films that delve into the world of sideshows and carnival spectacles: “The Unholy Three” and “The Devil-Doll.”

“Freaks” is undoubtedly the standout in this collection. Released in 1932, this film shocked audiences with its portrayal of real-life sideshow performers and their struggles for acceptance and understanding. Browning cast actual sideshow performers in many of the roles, adding to the film’s authenticity and power. It remains a cult classic and a testament to Browning’s unique ability to blend horror and empathy.

The transfer of “Freaks” on this Criterion release is stunning. The Blu-ray transfer captures the film’s grainy black-and-white cinematography beautifully, showcasing the atmospheric horror of the sideshow setting. The restoration work done by Criterion is top-notch, resulting in a picture that is sharp and full of detail, while still retaining the film’s original look and feel.

The audio quality has also been given a thorough upgrade on this release. The original monaural soundtrack has been cleaned up and remastered, delivering clear dialogue and a haunting score that adds to the film’s eerie atmosphere. The Criterion team has gone to great lengths to ensure that fans will have the best possible viewing experience.

In addition to “Freaks,” this Blu-ray set also includes two other Browning films that explore similar themes. “The Unholy Three,” released in 1925, stars Lon Chaney Sr. as a ventriloquist who uses his skills to commit crimes. This silent film showcases Browning’s ability to evoke fear and unease without the use of dialogue, relying solely on visual storytelling.

“The Devil-Doll,” released in 1936, tells the story of a wrongfully imprisoned man who escapes and seeks revenge using miniaturized human-like dolls. It further demonstrates Browning’s fascination with the uncanny and his knack for creating atmospheric horror.

Criterion has packed this release with numerous special features, making it an essential purchase for fans of Tod Browning and the horror genre. The disc includes audio commentaries by film scholars, rare archival footage related to the films, and newly commissioned interviews with Browning experts. These extras provide valuable insights into Browning’s intentions and the context in which these films were made.

“Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers” is a must-have for any cinema enthusiast, especially those with an appreciation for horror and the unconventional. Criterion has once again delivered a definitive release that showcases a cinematic master. The stunning visual and audio restoration, combined with the in-depth special features, make this Blu-ray collection a true treasure for film lovers.

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