Monday, October 7, 2019

A Circus with Acrobats, Animals, and...Vampires!

Anthony Higgins is about to bite!
After a highly-successful decade in the 1960s, Hammer Films faced a crossroads in the early 1970s. Their Gothic horror films were no longer considered scary. In fact, they appeared rather tame compared to other movies playing at your local movie theater. Thus, the studio made a concerted effort to make their horror pictures sexier (well, with more nudity) and more violent. One of its most interesting movies during this period was Vampire Circus (1971).

A long pre-title sequence lays the groundwork for the plot. After a headmaster sees his wife take a young girl into the woods, he follows them to the castle of Count Mitterhaus. When he's prevented from entering the castle, the headmaster gathers a group of villagers who are convinced that Mitterhaus is a vampire. They force their way into the castle and kill the bloodsucking nobleman with a stake. With his last words, the count proclaims that the town will die and the villagers' children will die to give him back his life.

Adrienne Corri runs the circus.
Fifteen years later, the village is rife with plague and neighboring towns have created blockades to prevent anyone from leaving or entering. Yet, somehow a traveling circus gets through the roadblocks (when asked how, the troupe's headmistress says nothing). While the circus provides a pleasant distraction for the townspeople, its activities mask the motives of its bloodsucking performers. Their goal is to kill the children of the men that destroyed Count Mitterhaus.

As Hammer vampire movies go, Vampire Circus is an above-average entry with some intriguing ideas, most of which aren't fully developed. The male vampires are not just irresistible to the village women...they're almost sexually addictive. When a mother initially refuses to let her daughter secretly meet with one of them, the girl breaks down in tears and pleads frantically. Some of the vampires are shapeshifters, including one that can transform into a black leopard. But the most original aspect of Vampire Circus is its combination of vampires (scary) and circuses ( know they are!). 

Robert Tayman as the Count.
With one exception, the low-wattage cast is solid and features actors associated with Star Wars, A Clockwork Orange, Doctor Who, and TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The one weak link is Robert Tayman as the villainous Mitterhaus (the actor's voice was dubbed by David de Keyser). He projects an effeminate quality that negates his effectiveness. Perhaps, it's the combination of his chest-baring costume, gold choker, hair, and make-up. In any event, he never comes across as sexually powerful nor especially threatening.

As I watched Vampire Circus recently, I was reminded of another movie about a traveling carnival that delivers evil to a small town: the 1983 film version of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. It's a flawed movie, too, but, like Vampire Circus, it projects an unusual fairy tale-like quality. 


Caftan Woman said...

It sounds like an idea somebody has and then takes a nap and thinks better of it. Okay, I'll bite (ha-ha).

Rick29 said...

It's definitely worth a watch!