Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: 'Vampire Circus' (1972)

Unable to compete with the more sophisticated chills of films such as Rosemary’s Baby, Hammer Studios high-dived into high camp in the ‘70s. The new Hammer got off to a ripping start with the Ingrid Pitt vehicle The Vampire Lovers in 1970. Within a couple of years Britain’s greatest producer of lush monster movies had fallen into a comfy groove for better or worse with stuff like Countess Dracula, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Dracula AD 1972, and Vampire Circus. The latter film finally makes its DVD debut today, and it’s one of Hammer’s goofiest. Studio execs must have given screenwriter Judson Kinberg three specifications: lots of sex, lots of blood, vampire circus. Kinberg then dashed off the script in 45 minutes.



The plot is thinner than milk stew: a band of circus performers take revenge on a village where a vampire had been put to death fifteen years earlier. There are some pretty far-out sequences swimming around that spindly storyline: a woman screws a vampire while her daughter’s bloody corpse lies a few feet away, the circus presents the villagers with such acts as a totally naked woman simulating sex with a lion tamer and a guy removing a mask that looks like a painted face to reveal his actual painted face, and an absolutely ridiculous-looking fake panther gets shaken around a bit to create the illusion it’s chomping someone to death. The performances vary in their levels of hysteria, Thorley Walters emerging triumphant with his portrayal of the wackadoo Burgermeister with Anthony Corlan coming in second as the eye-rolling vampire/panther man, Emil. Adrienne Corri of A Clockwork Orange gets top billing, even though she brings little to the film aside from a perpetually shiny puss in dire need of a good powdering. The film does a fine job of delivering a pleasing quantity of silliness and phony baloney gore, but it never rises above camp because it lacks characters worth caring about. The Vampire Lovers had that, thanks to a memorable performance from the recently departed Ingrid Pitt, plus an all-you-can-eat banquet of campy gore and silly fun. It’s a better use of your 90 minutes than Vampire Circus, but Hammer completists still shouldn’t miss either of them.



The new Vampire Circus disc is a blu ray/standard DVD combo that includes lots and lots of bonus business: a new documentary, a retrospective on circus/carnival themed horror productions, a retrospective on the British horror/comic publication Gallery of Grotesqueries, a poster and stills gallery, and a Vampire Circus interactive comic book. All that sounds good, but I can’t say for sure because I only saw the movie using Netflix’s “watch instantly” option. Find out for yourself by buying Vampire Circus on Amazon.com here.
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