This post contains graphic, mature content. Please read with caution.
Vampire Circus is not your standard Hammer Horror Film. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are nowhere to be seen. The heroes of the film know little about their enemy, but this is not shown in a campy way. There is real danger here, real death, carnage and bestiality. The villains of the film are absolutely savage and unsettling. All sorts of taboos are broken in this film, such as the above mentioned, incest, the murder of children and sexual acts with a person with mental disability. This film borders on exploitation, and veers quite sharply into it in some areas.
But what elevates the film is its frank depiction of these things combined with a supernatural overtone. The film begins with a woman aiding the murder of a young girl with her vampire lover (who I must say does have too much eyeliner and fake tan on). This death is tough to take. It is both shown in a rather savage fashion and the vampire almost seduces the child. After this he and his female familiar indulge in rather strange sex.
And from there it all disintegrates. The woman’s husband leads the other male villagers in the murder of the vampire and corporal punishment of the woman, who then runs away after her supernatural lover dies in his crypt. Many years later the town is beset with plague and isolated, led by foolish town leaders. But a mysterious circus comes to town, with a panther, an undulating brother-sister trapeze act and a strange presence.
It’s difficult to pin down why this movie works. This is largely due both to the fact that Hammer ignores the British Censor’s pleas to be “classy”, and does what it likes, and is better for it. This film is sex and death all over, it’s what you’ve paid to see and you get it in droves. Although Dracula had been something to behold over s decade before, Vampire Circus shows Hammer’s recognition of a new, more overtly mature direction. This is shown by the character development, and also a rather graphic sex scene in a panther cage with definite bestial overtones.
The film also has a stellar cast, with fabulous performances by Laurence Payne, Anthony Higgins and Adrienne Cori. Anthony Higgins is utterly different in this to his turn in Taste the Blood of Dracula. Here he is sexy, rather grubby and extremely dangerous. Laurence Payne gives a performance that shows his terrible grief and guilt, and Adrienne Cori manages to imbue her character with much emotion.
There are so many memorable scenes in this film. I will not name them all as that would be laborious and spoiler filled. But I shall mention some of my favourites. The use of the circus tent mirror in this film is particularly effective, even more so when it involves two children. This is another very difficult scene, but it shows Hammer’s commitment to living up to its horror name.
The sightless, but sound filled, murder of a group of students upstairs by a panther is riveting, as is the gambit that the woman is made to run at the beginning of the film.
I would highly recommend this film as a triple bill with Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Countess Dracula, all films are proof that if allowed to follow this trend, Hammer would’ve had a new renaissance in the 1970s.
This is my contribution for the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon being hosted by the lovely Gill and Barry of Reelweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis. Please visit their blogs for more information and to read everyone’s horrific and thrilling entries.