Review: Bound By Flesh (2014)

Posted on August 1, 2014 by Ben

Review by Quin

If you have read at least a handful of my reviews, you may have noticed that I review quite a bit of documentaries. Just like my bio says – I love documentaries. In fact, along with this film right here, my next review is going to be a documentary as well. While I have enjoyed documentaries on an extremely wide array of topics, It wasn’t until quite recently that I discovered just how many of these films somehow fit into or at least relate to the horror genre. There have been so many documentaries that cover the history of the horror film, that you can pretty much pick one and you’ll still get the same information that you’d find in any of the others. It really gets to the point where they start to become obsolete. Luckily, documentary filmmakers are digging deeper now and picking narrower topics to cover. Ideally, I would love to see an individual bio on each of the people in the horror film industry whom I respect and admire, but that would probably start to get tiresome as well. Here we have a documentary that is part biography and part history lesson on two ladies you may not have heard of (at least by name), but I’m almost positive you are familiar with their work if not their influence that is still felt today.

Bound By Flesh is a brand new documentary about the Hilton Sisters; no, not Paris and Nikki. These are the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet, most widely known for their role in the 1932 Tod Browning classic Freaks. Now before I go any further, if you are hoping to learn a lot about Freaks and the making of that film, you will not find it here. The filmmaker, very wisely, spends less that a minute on that film. It is seriously hardly even mentioned. That wonderful movie deserves its own documentary as well as profiles of some of the amazing actors who are featured, but this is strictly on the life of the Hilton Sisters as well as a very informative look at the history of carnival sideshows, complete with interviews of people who were there, one of the most interesting being a former carny named Ward Hall (who some of you may recognize from an episode of the History Channel’s American Pickers filmed in a retirement community of circus performers in Florida – which, incidentally, is near the murder place of Lobster Boy. Google that if you haven’t heard the story.)

Even though there is not much of a connection to horror films in this documentary, I suspect that most of you will still be interested. The drama and details of Violet and Daisy’s life together is a pretty dark and twisted tale, as well as being sad and infuriating, while remaining fascinating. One senses that the viewer gets the same sort of morbid thrill as a carnival patron gets when the curtain is pulled back on some of these curiosities. From their birth in England to their mother actually selling them to be displayed for profit, Bound By Flesh is only beginning to take us down a road where we learn of things so shocking, much of it rivals today’s tabloid fodder. The woman who purchased them was Mary Hilton who was described as “A poorly educated but savvy woman who was determined to make money off them.” As The Hilton Sisters get older, some of the trouble they get into is comparable to if Kim and Khloe Kardashian had been conjoined. But the film does its job and never lets us forget that these women where born into a bad situation where they were constantly taken advantage of by everybody. And when they were finally able to find some autonomy in the world, they lacked the skills to navigate their life and what started with tragedy ends in tragedy.

Bound By Flesh was directed by Leslie Zemeckis, who just so happens to be the wife of director Robert Zemeckis (famous for Back to the Future, as well as a small list of producing credits on some just-okay and some really-not-okay-at-all horror movies). Robert is actually one of the producers on this too. But the Zemeckis’s struck gold with this one. Leslie is more than a competent director. What she does here is very much in the style of a Ken Burns documentary where the camera lingers on photographs and video footage while we have Lea Thompson, Nancy Allen, Timothy Stack and Blake Boyd as the voices of some of the prominent people – Thompson and Allen providing the voices of Daisy and Violet. The pace of the film is very fast which is jarring at first, but when your brain catches up, you’ll be grateful that they were able to fit so much information into 90 minutes. As mentioned, the subject matter is mostly a bit of a downer, but there is inspiration in the Hilton Sisters’ story as well. This is a must see for anyone interested in the lives of carnival performers. It may even be just enough to tide some of you over until October when American Horror Story: Freakshow starts.

Bound By Flesh is in select US theaters now. It’s also available on VOD and can be digitally downloaded from iTunes. The DVD will be out in October. Go to http://www.boundbyflesh.com for more info.