Synopsis: As the plague sweeps the countryside, a quarantined village is visited by a mysterious traveling circus. Soon, young children begin to disappear, and the locals suspect the circus troupe might be hiding a horrifying secret.
Stars: Adrienne Corri, John Moulder-Brown, Laurence Payne, Thorley Walters, Lynne Frederick, Anthony Higgins
Director: Robert Young
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: A longtime fan of Hammer Studios and their horror tales, I’ve come to see recently just how limited my scope was in my formative years. I’m making up for the time that I focused in on some of the more generic (but still worthy!) offerings and am quite enjoying expanding my horizons. With titles that might not be so in the mainstream featuring the familiar names that trigger a notion of what you can expect, like a Dracula or a Frankenstein or a Werewolf, I’m finding some fairly excellent experiences on a regular basis. I almost feel bad saying I’ve “discovered” these movies because they’ve been there all along just waiting for me to find them. So, with great humility, let’s talk about Vampire Circus.
How had I never seen this one before? I’d heard Vampire Circus spoken of highly before and know I’ve seen the poster numerous times over the years; it’s striking image of eyes wide and a mouth open and fangs bared is instantly memorable. Making an impact with promises of blood and mayhem, I can say the movie delivers on all accounts and it’s an R-rated delight from a studio that started off a little tentative in their willingness to go the extra mile. From the beginning, it’s clear this isn’t just another standard vampire flick filmed against an eastern European backdrop…there’s some plot that’s been thought out and it’s exceedingly well made.
An extended prologue finds a group of villagers in the Serbian village of Stetl finally doing away with the vampire Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman) who has been preying on the young children in the village. As he dies, he curses the townspeople and their children, promising they will all die in order for him to live once more. Entrusting a follower (Domini Blythe) to find his relation and tell him what the villagers had done, the Count dies and his castle is destroyed. Fifteen years pass and the village has indeed been plagued by one problem after another. A plague has cut them off from the rest of the world and no one can go in or out…until the circus comes to town.
Led by a flame-haired gypsy woman (Adrienne Corri), the Circus of Night arrives in the village under mysterious circumstances and quickly begins to enthrall the townspeople with their unbelievable acts of daring and transformation. High flying twin acrobats turn into, well, bats. A panther can turn into a smoldering man in the blink of an eye. Then there are the dancers who perform a risqué pas de duex (with full nudity, another reason the movie was slapped with an R rating) along with a funhouse hall of mirrors that turns deadly. Oh…and most of them are vampires. So begins a three-ring act of violence and revenge, with each victim being brought to the Count’s final resting place and being offered as a sacrifice, their blood restoring him to his full gory glory.
It takes longer than it should for the townspeople to figure out what’s going on but even when they do there are still a few mysteries yet to be solved that are gradually doled out before a blood-soaked finale set in a tomb. The special effects are well-rendered and it’s more than a little bit scary at times. In general, the atmosphere is right on target for the time and place, something Hammer was always so pitch perfect in achieving time after time. The production design is lovely and the location shooting in Europe adds to the authenticity of the work. Even the performances manage to be more than just your standard victim and prey stock characters, though not everyone can bare their fangs and sink them into necks as good as Anthony Higgins.
This is an absolute must-see for fans of horror, classics and new. Especially if you have a penchant for the vampire genre and especially the Hammer brand of filmmaking, it’s an essential watch. It drags ever so slightly in the middle with a bit of repetitive kills and sensuality but at 87 minutes you aren’t waiting around too long before things pick up again and the Vampire Circus prepares for its big finale.