Movie Number– 4
Title– Vampire Circus (1972)
Running Time– 87 minutes (“PG”)
Director– Robert Young
Writer– Judson Kinberg
Starring– Adrienne Corri, Anthony Corlan, John Moulder-Brown, & Thorley Walters
(Originally an IP Movies Review)
The “Hammer” name is synonymous with classic tales of horror, including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959), and loads of sequels to all three. Hammer is known for horror productions that deliver Gothic scares with beautiful women and quality actors on a low budget. Vampire Circus, one of Synapse Films latest Blu-ray transfer, follows this formula exactly, being filled with gorgeous women, good acting, and an intriguing, if imperfect, vampire tale.
A young girl is lead to a castle by a beautiful woman, and killed by Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), a vampire. Professor Albert Mueller (Laurence Payne) gathers a group of people together that decide they’ve had enough of the Count, and storm the castle, killing him. As Count Mitterhaus dies, he puts a curse on the small, 19th century Austrian village, vowing that all their children will die so that he can rise again. Fifteen years later, the village is hit with the plague. During this plague, a circus comes to town and distracts the locals from their current problems. Unfortunately for them, the circus is actually filled with shape-shifting vampires, and the town’s children start disappearing, which makes them realize that Count Mitterhaus’ prophecy might be coming true after all.
The best aspect of Vampire Circus has to be the acting. Modern horror audiences might tire of Vampire Circus once they realize this isn’t a “jumpy” horror movie, but rather one that relies on the myths of vampires themselves, and character development to grab the audience. In a time where vampires are being forced down movie-goers throats – due to the popularity of the Twilight series – it is a welcome breath of fresh air to see a vampire flick with solid acting. Laurence Payne, (playing Prof. Albert Mueller, the schoolteacher) does an excellent job accepting the given circumstances of each scene, and delivers a believable, moving performance. Adreinne Corri, playing the gypsy woman, and the leader of the circus, is also effective, and plays nicely alongside Skip Martin (the circus dwarf named Michael), and Anthony Corlan (playing a shape-shifting panther/vampire named Emil). Corlan comes off as the most unnatural of the group, but this may be because of his character choice as the awkward vampire rather than him lacking acting talent. Domini Blythe, who is only present in the beginning of the film as Anna Mueller – the schoolteacher’s wife who leaves her husband for the seductions of Count Mitterhaus – deserved to be in the movie more, as she is not only beautiful, but a talented actress. An interesting side note is that David Prowse – who later played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as Frankenstein’s monster in other Hammer productions – plays “The Strongman” in Vampire Circus. Prowse has no lines of dialogue, but manages to play a memorable role, and one of the more interesting “brute” characters I can recall. The acting, all-around, is what makes Vampire Circus effective, and helps to keep the audience connected all the way through the film.
The story of Vampire Circus starts out well, but it manages to wrap around itself a little too much, and some viewers might find it confusing to follow on first viewing. Some of the circus acts are fun to watch, such as the lady dancing with only leopard-patterned paint covering her body, but some of the other circus acts seem pointless, deterring from the main plot for no reason. This oversaturation of the circus events also lessens the idea that all the town’s children are dying; if more emphasis were placed on the fact that all these kids were dead or dying, the movie would move along with more urgency, and could help add tension to the film. Instead, the film rests on its heels, and the plot loses importance. If all these kids are dying, why is the town so ready to just sit around and watch a circus act? This circus gimmick, along with muddy final scenes, manages to weaken the intensity of the vampire movie as a whole.
Vampire Circus tells a unique vampire story that we haven’t seen in quite some time. It hearkens back to the days when vampires were sexy and evil, instead of sexy and sparkly, and manages to be just gory enough for those with bloodlust, but corny enough so that it won’t offend anyone. Vampire Circus is a solid effort that lives up to the Hammer name.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.