Freaks was released in 1932, and it's as disturbing as any film you'll see today. A feature about love and deception set within a carnival sideshow, it stars real freaks -- people of varying deformities who whose integrity and sense of honor is matched only by their loyalty and determination to protect their own. The Ramones were so moved by the film they borrowed the lines "Gabba gabba! We accept you! We accept you! One of us!" for the song "Pinhead." It screens Saturday at the Roxie as part of a series called "Hollywood Before the Code: Nasty-Ass Films for a Nasty-Ass World."
Shot in black and white for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the story was created by Tod Browning, who had produced and directed Dracula the year before for Universal. It's a cavalcade of wrongness that might have kickstarted any subsequent film that exploited deformity for horror kicks, but it's also a film in which the contemporary viewer may enjoy such logic-defying feats as a half-man, half-caterpillar rolling and lighting his own marijuana cigarette. It was released with appropriately hysterical taglines: "The Strangest ... The Most Startling Human Story Ever Screened ... Are You Afraid to Believe What Your Eyes See? The Love Story of a Siren, a Giant, and a Dwarf!"
It screens with Island of Lost Souls. They're among similarly spirited films that rekindle a long-held fascination with the salacious films of what's often dubbed Pre-Code Hollywood, the period from the late 1920s to the early 1930s before censorship was imposed on the silver screen.
"Hollywood Before the Code: Nasty-Ass Films for a Nasty-Ass World" runs March 2-8 at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia), S.F. Admission for each double feature is $11.