Vampire Circus is a 1971 British supernatural horror feature film directed by Robert Young from a screenplay by Judson Kinberg. It was produced by Wildburg Stark and Michael Carreras (who was uncredited) for Hammer Film Productions.
Schoolmaster Albert Müller witnesses his wife Anna taking a little girl to the castle of vampire Count Mitterhaus, where the child is killed.
The villagers, led by Müller and the mayor, invade the castle and attack the Count, driving a wooden stake through his heart. With his dying breath, Mitterhaus curses the village, vowing that their children will die to give him back his life.
The villagers force Anna to run the gauntlet, after which she runs back to the castle, where the briefly-revived Count tells her to find his cousin Emil. Meanwhile, the villagers set the castle on fire.
Fifteen years later, the village is ravaged by the plague and blockaded by the authorities. The citizens fear that the pestilence may be due to the Count’s curse. A travelling circus, led by a dwarf and a gypsy woman, arrives in the village and the villagers appreciate the distraction from their troubles.
One of the artistes, Emil, is actually a vampire and Count Mitterhaus’s cousin. Emil and the gypsy woman go to the castle, where they find the Count’s staked body and reiterate the curse, that all who attacked his cousin and all their children must die…
“Hokum, maybe, but I challenge anyone not to enjoy it. Vampire Circus has stood the test of time – and today’s filmmakers could do worse than to take a look at it if they’re constructing a vampire tale of their own. It wears its crapness firmly on its sleeve, and adds a sense of crazy paced style sadly lacking in today’s turgid gore fests.” Chris Wood, British Horror Films
“Less a standard Hammer monster melodrama than a surreal journey through dark fantasy (reminiscent of Jean Rollin‘s erotic vampire series), with an unexpected (but not entirely inappropriate) surplus of nudity and bloodletting. The film’s creepy highlights include the chilling extended prologue and scenes of vampire trapeze performers transforming into bats in mid-leap.” Gary W. Tooze, DVD Beaver
” …with a diverse style (at times the picture looks like an adult fairytale with European art film sensibilities) from the picture’s director, Robert Young, who was fairly new to features at the time, and an imaginative screenplay by Judson Kinberg (which adds a number of unique visual delights to the usual vampire lore) the film is a winner and one of Hammer’s finest.” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In
“… one of the best Hammer horror films of them all […] John Moulder-Brown makes for a rather bland and uninteresting hero, but the rest of the cast is much better. The actors playing the villains put in particularly compelling performances. Adrienne Corri is convincingly forceful, and it never seems odd that this human woman should be able to dominate so thoroughly an entire pack of vampires.” Scott Ashlin, 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“An elegant and visually absorbing revenge tragedy – only two of the principal characters survive its gory unfolding – the film succeeds admirably on all levels; its pell-mell prologue is almost lengthy enough to function as a feature in itself.” Marcus Hearn, Alan Barnes, The Hammer Story
” …one of the company’s last great classics […] erotic, grotesque, chilling, bloody, suspenseful and loaded with doom and gloom atmosphere, this is the kind of experiment in terror that reinvigorates your love of the scary movie art form.” Bill Gibron, Pop Matters
Synapse Films Blu-ray + DVD combo features:
- Featurette: The Bloodiest Show on Earth: Making Vampire Circus – An all-new documentary featuring interviews with writer/director Joe Dante, Hammer documentarian Ted Newsom, Video Watchdog editor/author Tim Lucas, author/film historian Philip Nutman, and actor David Prowse (32:39 in HD)
- Featurette: Gallery of Grotesqueries: A Brief History of Circus Horrors – A retrospective on circus/carnival themed horror productions (15:07 in HD)
- Featurette: Visiting the House of Hammer: Britain’s Legendary Horror Magazine – A retrospective on the popular British horror/comic publication featuring author Philip Nutman (9:48 in HD)
- Vampire Circus: Interactive Comic Book- Featuring artwork by Brian Bolland (3:15 in HD)
- Poster and Stills Gallery (1:58 in HD)
- Original theatrical trailer (2:321 in HD)
- Isolated Effects and Music score
- DVD with same content/extras – in SD
Buy novelisation: Amazon.co.uk
Cast and characters:
- Laurence Payne … Professor Albert Müller – The Tell-Tale Heart; The Trollenberg Terror
- Domini Blythe … Anna Müller, his wife
- Lynne Frederick … Dora Müller, their daughter
- Thorley Walters … Mayor
- Adrienne Corri … Gypsy woman – Devil Girl from Mars
- Mary Wimbush … Elvira, the mayor’s wife
- Christina Paul … Rosa, the mayor’s daughter
- Robin Sachs … Heinrich (twin brother of Helga)
- Lalla Ward … Helga (twin sister of Heinrich)
- Richard Owens … Dr. Kersch
- John Moulder-Brown … Anton Kersch, his son – The House That Screamed
- Robin Hunter … Mr. Hauser
- Elizabeth Seal … Gerta Hauser, his wife
- Barnaby Shaw … Gustav Hauser, their son
- John Bown … Mr. Schilt
- Jane Darby … Jenny Schilt, his daughter
- Robert Tayman … Count Mitterhaus – The House of Whipcord
- Skip Martin … Michael the dwarf
- Anthony Higgins (billed as Anthony Corlan) … Emil
- David Prowse … the Strongman – Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell; The Horror of Dracula
- Serena … the erotic tiger-woman dancer
Production began on August 9, 1971. First-time director Robert Young was unfamiliar with Hammer’s tight production schedules, and at one point used up some 500 feet of film stock while trying to get a tiger to sink its teeth into a fake human arm stuffed with pork (it finally bit after beef was substituted). When filming stretched from the scheduled six weeks into seven, the production was shut down and the footage given to editor Peter Musgrave with instructions to make a finished film out of what he had.
The British quad poster was designed by Vic Fair who infamously incorporated phallus motifs into the outer edges of the design – a detail that wasn’t spotted by the studio until it was too late.
Black Park, Buckinghamshire, England
Three of the cast – Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri and Lalla Ward – would be reunited in the 1980 season of the British sci-fi/fantasy series Doctor Who in the serial The Leisure Hive.
Image credits: Cult VHS
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