CERT: 15 / FORMAT: BLU-RAY, DVD, DIGITAL / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 12TH
Directed by Sidney Hayers, 1960’s Circus of Horrors occupies a curious hinterland in the history of British genre cinema, appearing shortly after Hammer made its first tentative forays into the market but largely forgotten in the wake of the huge success of the House of Horror’s more high profile chillers. And indeed, Circus of Horrors is a very different beast, a lurid and wilfully sleazy exploitation film that pushes the envelope of acceptability with far more daring that Hammer’s often rather more buttoned-up early efforts.
Cinema’s go-to ghastly Nazi Anton Diffring plays Dr Rossiter, a plastic surgeon who flees to France with his assistants Angela (Jane Hylton) and her brother Martin (Kenneth Griffith) when a high society operation goes horribly wrong. Rossiter re-establishes himself as Dr Schuler, using a struggling travelling circus as a front for his increasingly deranged experiments, befriending disfigured women and transforming them into beauties performing gratefully at the circus. But his problems start again when they threaten to leave and suddenly fall victim to terrible accidents. The Press and Scotland Yard begin to get suspicious… and Schuler/Rossiter becomes increasingly desperate and insane.
Gloriously and vividly presented on Blu-ray, Circus of Horrors is shamelessly enjoyable hokey horror. Diffring is magnificently absurd as Schuler and his relentless pawing over numerous scantily-clad circus girls is likely to leave you feeling as queasy as a couple of the startlingly-graphic death sequences, which are already a cut above the often tame stuff offered up by Hammer at the time. Circus of Horrors glories in its nastiness and seediness and it’s a respectable final chapter in Anglo-Amalgamated’s so-called ‘Sadian trilogy’, which also comprised 1959’s Horrors of the Black Museum and Peeping Tom. Decent extras includes chats with critic Kim Newman and broadcaster Stuart Maconie.