Mike’s Review: Vampire Circus (1972)

★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Robert Young

Vampires and circuses! Two great tastes that pair wonderfully said together. Said no one. Ever. But it’s true. It happened. All courtesy of classic horror studio Hammer films. In 1972 someone thought up this brainy coupling and vampires were meshed together in to the world of circuses. Not necessarily a fad that lasted, but at least we got one vampire/circus mashup!  

Hammer Films didn’t need a coy title either. They went straight for the marketing jugular vein and laid out — Vampire Circus. During the early 1970s Hammer was still deep in to its Victorian/gothic phase. Elaborate sets, eerie woodland locations, and since it was the early 1970s, lots and lots of bosom-y and bawdy babes. They had the formula perfectly dialed in and it all came together in a rather interesting symphony of bloody vampire rage. 

If you’ve ever watched a Hammer film you’ll know that the stories are unlikely and unnecessarily complex and there are far too many characters. Vampire Circus, directed by first time director Robert Young, follows all these Hammer tropes and more. Amazingly, Vampire Circus also stars actor Dave Prowse (Darth Vader) as the circus strongman. 

Hammer Films’ success would come as a result of its remarkable film relationships with United Artists, Columbia, Warner Brothers, and of course, Universal. Hammer knew what audiences were buying and what freaked them out to their unholy core. Vampires, mummies, Frankensteins, and werewolves. Universal had successful unpacked this winning recipe and Hammer also leaned in to this until the well was dry. By the time the early 1970s rolled around it was clear that vampires were no longer enough — enter circuses. 

Vampire Circus follows a Serbian village in the 19th century who’ve fallen prey to evil Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman). While Count Mitterhaus may be the most non-frightening name ever, his actions are anything but. Preying on local children Count Mittenhaus kills, kills, and seduces. No one is left untouched in his vampiric desires. Eventually the villagers become fed up with his evil and Count Mitterhaus, understandably, gets the ol’ stake in the heart. 

ATMOSfx! Woo!
I don’t remember vampire fangs being this long.

Count Mitterhaus has a trick up his sleeve in the form of…you guessed it…a circus! Employing a shape-shifting vampire, a demonic little person, a strongman (AKA Darth Vader), and a gypsy witch, he’s ready to seek revenge on the villagers who halted his deathly rampage 15 years earlier. Each of the circus performers are still very much under his control all these years later as he begins to seek his bloody vengeance. 

Vampire Circus is definitely packed with some chilling images, some wonderful Hammer Films sets, beautiful film locations and handful of delightfully gory scenes. That said, it’s undoing comes at the hand of rather formulaic story. No real surprises, save for the pairing of vampires and circuses, and the audience is left with a mildly interesting story about the undying power of vampires and closed minded puritanical communities. We can only assume the moral to this immoral tale is don’t mess with vampires, especially those that have circuses at their disposal. 

If you’re looking for a fun afternoon reprieve from the all-too-serious horror of today then Vampire Circus will surely hit the spot. Not to mention you get to see the absolutely gargantuan Dave Prowse in a role other than Darth Vader. And you’re also treated to one of the most hysterical taglines of all time: Human Fangs Ripping Throats — No sawdust can soak up the torrent of blood!

Vampire Circus says that it was Rated PG, but its got an awfully lot of gore and nudity, likely pushing it in to the PG-13/Rated R category. Vampire Circus is streaming on PlexTV.

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