For some reason most people seem to think Hammer’s seventies output is a uniformly poor substitute for their fifties and sixties cinema. Films like Captain Kronos:Vampire Hunter, Twins of Evil, and this breathlessly paced piece of entertaining hokum belie that claim, and in turn provided the studio with some of their finest moments.
The cleverest thing that Hammer did in Vampire Circus was to bring in a new actor (Robert Tayman) to play the evil Count Mitterhaus-not only is he physically a lot tougher than the likes of Chris Lee et al; he convinces as both vampiric lothario/paedophile and as a totally depraved and decadent “lord of the manor”.
The film starts off with a bang-before the credits have even appeared a young girl has been murdered, eve had a sex scene (with full-frontal female nudity) and the usual conflagration occurs when the village rent-a-mob storm the castle after having had enough of the counts murderous vampiric shenanigans. The count manages to kill a fair few of the village’s male population before finally being staked. Before he dies he manages to utter the curse, ”None of you will live-your children will die to give me back my life”.
The credits finally appear, and then the motif “Fifteen years later” appears on the screen. The village is now in the grip of the plague, and when some of the locals, including the doctor’s son, try to leave the village for help they are shot at by a frightened gang of men from the next village, who are guarding the perimeter to stop the plague from spreading.
Although all exits and entrances from the village appear to be blocked, this doesn’t stop the rather sinister looking “Circus of Nights” from suddenly appearing in the village, with no explanation of how they got there or what they are up to.
" We are here to steal the money from dead men’s eyes”, one of the circus employees helpfully explains to the bemused villagers.
The circus sets up its stall and gives a show to the entire village the following night. Men change into panthers in mid air, naked snake women give sensuous dances, and a dwarf capers around much to the delight of the easily pleased villagers, but this is just a front for the real reason that the circus is in town. The creepy looking gypsy leader (Adrienne Corri) and her son Emil are actually related to the evil Count Mitterhaus, and have arrived to both punish the townsfolk and resurrect the Count. Emil has a bit of an eye for the ladies, and lures the burgermeisters daughter to the Mittenhaus tomb, where he unleashes a plague of bats, telling the girl that “The sins of the father shall be visited on the children”.
The plan is that the children of the villagers responsible for the Counts death will be murdered and their blood will be used to bring Mitterhaus back to life. In one of the films many highlights, two young boys are lured by the vampires into the circus’ hall of mirrors, only to recoil in fear when they realise that only their reflections are showing in the halls mirrors. Emil then proceeds to wipe out a roomful of students (best thing for them, get a job you lazy bastards!) The villagers are far from happy about this turn of events, and decide that there is only one thing for it-the dwarf from the circus will have to have his head bashed in!
After dishing out a severe pasting to said dwarf, another major league fracas ensues between the vampires and the villagers, with heavy losses on both sides. Vampire Circus is a prime piece of over-the-top seventies hokum, and could teach a thing or two to filmmakers, such as Stephen Sommers, about how to integrate a fast paced plot into an entertaining story without battering the viewer into submission.
As with other Hammer films from the time, the gore and nudity quota was upped considerably, and as per usual Hammer made sure that even the smaller roles were filled by good actors. The DVD on review here is the UK release, and it looks superb although there isn’t much in the way of extras-its available very cheaply and it goes without saying that this is another must purchase title.