This morning, as a Halloween treat, I watched Freaks. There are some haunting, even terrifying, images at the end, when the freaks get their revenge on Cleo and Hercules, and in fairness to Tod Browning, the effects are not entirely due to the freakishness of the performers. I don't know where I stand on the "is he exploiting them or not" question, but I do think that question, along with the film's ending, is far more interesting than anything else going on in the movie. I believe Freaks is better after the fact, when it's being discussed, then while it is being watched. A couple of the "big" actors do well, but most of the freaks are cast because they're freaks, not because they have any particular acting ability. So Browning might get credit for accepting the freaks enough to include them in his film, but since for the most part they can't act, all that is left for them is to be freakish. Which smacks of exploitation, after all. It's worth seeing, even important, and it's shorter than Booty Call. But it's not a great movie.
I wish I'd seen the version where they castrated Hercules, though.