Circus of Horrors is a gloriously grotesque British horror film from 1960. The Sidney Hayers directed film is part of what film critic David Pirie called Anglo-Amalgamated’s “Sadian trilogy” (the other two films were Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and Peeping Tom (1960). These were a trio of horror films filled with sex, violence and cruelty. That sets up a lot of expectation that Circus Of Horrors can’t meet, but it’s a fun romp nonetheless.
The film opens in 1947 with Anton Diffring’’s brilliant but disgraced Dr. Rossiter evading capture from the English police. He runs away to Europe with his assistants (Kenneth Griffith and Jane Hylton) and changes his name to Schuler. He discovers a failing circus owned by Donald Pleasance’s Vanet and manages to assume control when Vanet is tragically hugged to death whilst drunkenly dancing with his pet bear (let that be a warning, folks).
Over the next decade Rossiter/Schuler uses the circus as a cover for surgeries where he gives criminals new faces – as well as a place on the bill. Every-time a (usually female) circus member wants to leave, an untimely accident befalls them. This brings the circus and Schuler fame and fortune – but also the attention of the authorities. With Schuler’s secret close to being discovered it’s probably not the best time for him to be making moves on the latest member of his ‘Temple Of Beauty’.
As much a melodrama as it is a horror film, Circus of Horrors is an odd beast of a movie. The film’s deaths are quite gratuitous (for the time) but
Sidney Hayers at times seems more much interested in the theatrics of the circus than the story he’s telling. Diffring is great as the evil plastic surgeon (is there any other kind in the movies?), adding some impressive layers to what could be a one-note character. Kenneth Griffith is also good value as Rossiter/Schuler’s sidekick who becomes increasingly frustrated by having to carry out his boss’s dirty work. Also good is Erika Remberg’s gymnast who wants to be top of the bill, but keeps missing out by Schuler’s constantly rotating (and unlucky) squeezes.
Circus Of Horrors is lusciously filmed by master cinematographer Douglas Slocombe – the man behind such great looking features as the first three Indiana Jones movies (down with Janusz Kaminski!), 1974’s The Great Gatsby and The Lion In Winter (1968). This is one great looking horror film which has recently been remastered by Studiocanal.
Not quite as great as it could be, Circus Of Horrors is nonetheless an enjoyable slice of horror cinema. It’s worth it for the performances – and for the wonderful visuals.
For this blu-ray release of Circus Of Horrors, Studiocanal used the original camera negative to scan and restore the print for a brilliant looking 4K HD master. The disc comes with the original trailer, a behind the scenes stills gallery and new interviews with the brilliant Kim Newman and broadcaster Stuart Maconie.