Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vampire Circus (1972)

Hammer films had always been known for their bold productions and atmospheric Gothic settings, but as the market began to shift towards graphic, sexually charged thrillers in the late 60's and early 70's thanks to prolific European filmmakers like Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin, the house of horrors also began catering towards these new trends. One of the last films to be released by the studio that kept with the traditional form was 1972's VAMPIRE CIRCUS, which also proved to be one of the most evocative and original vampire tales of its time. The film's vibrant color palette and beautifully-crafted set pieces recall Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA, while the creepy carnival backdrop brings to mind Tod Browning's 1932 classic FREAKS.

Taking place in 19th century Europe, VAMPIRE CIRCUS begins with a vampire lord being staked through the heart by four nobles after he makes one of their wives his newest bride. Years later, the village has been ravished by the Black Death, and its citizens now live in fear within the quarantined city limits. A mysterious traveling carnival suddenly appears one morning, and begins to lift the failing spirits of the townspeople. What they don't know is that the exotic animals aren't the only ones with fangs at this colorful sideshow attraction. The undead performers drain the town's children of their blood as payment for the sins of their fathers, and use it to revive their fallen lord.

Unlike Hammer favorite Terence Fisher, who benefited from a long and successful career before making CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, newcomer Robert Young had never directed a feature film prior to his work on VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and yet his film retains all of the same stunning cinematography and unparalleled visual style as many of the studio's best. Young introduces a series of seamless transitions that allow the shape-shifting vampires to change from their human forms into bats, tigers, and jaguars. Many familiar faces populate the cast, including TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA's Anthony Higgins as the seductive vampire count Emil, and Adrienne Corri playing his sexy young lover that leads the twisted carnival. Their enchantment over the town is dispelled by two of the surviving teens in a climactic showdown that begins in the school chapel then takes them deep into the vampires' lair. Hammer would produce far fewer releases in the years to follow, but along with TWINS OF EVIL and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES, the VAMPIRE CIRCUS is one of the studio's last great pictures before closing its doors in 1979.

Rating: 9/10.

If you liked VAMPIRE CIRCUS, check out:
HOWLING 6, TWINS OF EVIL, SANTA SANGRE.

9 comments:

  1. Huh, never heard of this. Sounds quite good. Looking it up now!

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  2. For some reason, this one will always be one of my favorite Hammer vampire films. Its just very offbeat. I wish it got a dvd release as a double bill with TWINS OF EVIL, now theres a dvd I would gladly pay money to have!

    Unfortunately, neither of them is on dvd...

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  3. Oddly enough, this one surfaced in a beautifully remastered transfer available on Netflix Instant Que, but ironically the disc is still not available through Netflix. Hopefully it means there is a finished release that is planned to come out shortly?

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  4. Carl, you are right, I just added it to my instant queue!

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  5. We have it here on a Region 2 UK DVD, and I agree that its well worth a look. I'm a big fan of Hammer's output from 1970 to 1976, in fact its probably my favourite period of Hammer's history. But I do consider 'Vampire Circus' one of the least engaging and least interesting of their 1970's output. The premise is intriguing, but the surreal touches are mere embellishment to a film that doesnt make the best use of its ideas. Its lack of a strong central performance is also damaging I think.

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  6. Been trying to see this for years; thank the Old Ones it is now on Netflix instant!

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  7. I'm so in to Hammer. And the studio produced some amazing pieces of work. Some of it, as you say after audience tastes change, are quite unrecognisable as traditional Hammer. Oh, and it has a lot of lesbians. Win!

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  8. As Shaun said, it's been out in the UK and also in Spain as well. Synapse has it now along with TWINS OF EVIL and HANDS OF THE RIPPER. Not sure when they plan on releasing them, though.

    I've always loved the movie since first catching it on Commander USA back in the late 80's. After picking up a Japanese bootleg from Midnight Video I saw what I had been missing. The score is amazing on this one and if only the film hadn't ran over time and budget, we could have seen an even more spectacular movie. There's enough action and violence for several Hammer Gothics and I'll take these energetic vamps over Chris Lee's "I'm gonna choke ya!" style of defense any day. Nothing against Lee's Drac pictures, just that Young's approach was vastly different from everyone elses.

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  9. Will, be sure to check it out now that its on Instant, imagine my surprise when I found it!

    Still waiting for the Synapse release to finally see Twins of Evil V, but I agree I love the vamps in this one. That is one thing I have come to expect from Hammer, there is so much variety between their Dracula, the vamps in Vampire Circus, and even those in Captain Kronos.

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