He turned the greatest show on earth into a…Circus of Horrors!
In the late '50s and early '60s Hammer Films had invigorated horror movies with a smooth blend of sex and eroticism to the mix. They basically got away with what they could at the time (which wasn't much) and found a moderate amount of success. Other studios often tried to duplicate this mix, hoping to cash in on the success of Hammer and one of these results is Circus of Horrors, yet another niche film that Anchor Bay has brought to DVD.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Rossiter (Anton Diffring—Where Eagles Dare) is a brilliant plastic surgeon who runs into a spot of trouble in London after a patient ends up hideously deformed. This leads Rossiter to do what any normal person would do—he fakes his death and uses his talents to alter his appearance to flee to France. Once in France he comes across a failing circus run by Vanet (Donald Pleasance—Halloween), whose daughter's face has been horribly scarred by Nazi bombs. Rossiter brokers a deal with Vanet and restores his daughter's appearance in return for a piece of the circus. After Vanet dies in a horrible accident, Rossiter completely takes over and uses the circus as a front for criminals to hide once he's altered their appearance.
Ten years pass and the circus is once again thriving as it tours across Europe. All is going well for Rossiter as long as he doesn't do something really stupid like try to return to London, which he decides to do. Oh, and I forgot to mention that nobody is allowed to leave the circus. Those who decide they want out are met with horrible, grisly accidents (hence the "of Horrors" part of the title). Once the body count starts to climb a reporter and Scotland Yard both begin to investigate Rossiter's hidden past.
I never really liked circuses. The noise. The lights. The stench of sweating elephants in the summer time. The clowns. (I mean, who dresses up like that and thinks it's normal?) So imagine the shock when I received Circus of Horrors in the mail. There were lots of questions to be answered like, "Is this about some sort of freak show with monsters?" or "Is this going to trigger that one awful childhood memory of being accosted by evil clowns?" I wasn't sure, to be honest, but I trudged forward. After all, if a movie isn't very good, we're here to take the bullet for you.
All in all I wasn't tremendously disappointed with Circus of Horrors once I looked at it with a "this is an old movie trying to be shocking" sort of frame of mind. Times have changed and what stunned us forty years ago just doesn't hold up after a couple viewings of Fight Club. The knife in the woman's throat? It's old hat, my friend.
But Circus of Horrors offers up a bit more than just shocks. Anton Diffring plays the role of Rossiter with a fierce sense of aplomb, actually coming off as the film's protagonist despite his homicidal tendencies. When he's not chewing scenery he's ordering the death of another performer who's threatened to leave him. The rest of the cast is kind of a "Who's Who in '60s Horror Cheese." Yvonne Monlaur (Brides of Dracula) lends a credible performance as an older Yvette Vanet, who casts a sense of naïveté and innocence into the sea of scum and villainy that Rossiter has created. Still, this film isn't at a point where I'd recommend that everyone run out and see it. It's for schlock fans only.
Anchor Bay has one again done a commendable job in bringing a niche film to DVD. The transfer is a decent anamorphic transfer that is limited by the age of the source material. Still, though, the colors are pretty sharp, which is a good thing considering the swirl of lights and colors the circus atmosphere brings. The audio is a flat two-channel mono soundtrack, but what do you expect for something that's over forty years old? The extras are okay, and include the standard trailers and TV spots, as well as a sizeable collection of production stills and an Anton Diffring bio.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You can sometimes judge a movie by the intelligence of its characters. Smart characters make a smart story, which in turn makes a smart movie. In Circus of Horrors, if your name wasn't Dr. Rossiter, then you were probably on a waiting list to win a Darwin Award (and even then, Rossiter's decision to tempt fate and return to London wasn't exactly brilliant). For example, Vanet wakes up his pet fake bear in the middle of the night in a drunken stupor and tries to dance with him (oddly, an urge I often have when wandering around in a drunken stupor). This results in Vanet being mauled to death. His mistake? He didn't allow the bear to have his prerequisite two cups of coffee after waking up. Personally, I sympathize with the bear and I believe this is a case of justifiable homicide.
In other cases, performers in the circus, all of whom at least suspect that something is wrong with all of the "accidents" that have happened and how nobody is allowed to leave, continually announce to Dr. Rossiter that they're going to leave after their next performance. How stupid can you get?
"Dr. Rossiter, I am about to leave the circus for another life despite the fact that everyone else who's tried meets a grisly and horrible end, but you can not stop me. HA HAHAHA! Now stand aside so I can perform my lion-taming act!"
No rational person would do something like this, yet it happens repeatedly in Circus of Horrors. The lesson here, kids, is that if you're going to tick off a homicidal egomaniac, then you should do so secretly. He'll get over it. Honestly.
Circus of Horrors really has not aged too well, but in the film's defense most of the older horror movies do not. Nostalgia hounds will enjoy the DVD as Anchor Bay has once again done a credible job.
All charges are dropped since the witnesses seem to have run off with the circus.
(Okay, maybe they didn't say "HA HAHAHA!" before trying to leave, but you get the idea.)
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots
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