(1960 Horror)

CIRCUS OF HORRORS French poster artwork

STARRING: Anton Diffring (Dr. Rossiter/Dr. Bernard Schuler), Erika Remberg (Elissa Caro), Yvonne Monlaur (Nicole Vanet), Donald Pleasence (Vanet), Jane Hylton (Angela), Kenneth Griffith (Martin), Conrad Phillips (Inspector Ames), Jack Gwillim (Superintendent Andrews), Vanda Hudson (Magda von Meck), and Carla Challoner (Nicole Vanet, as a child)

DIRECTOR: Sidney Hayers
PRODUCER: Julian Wintle and Leslie Parkyn

United Kingdom

92 minutes


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Donald Pleasence learns the dangers of giving alcohol to a bear

A review by Howard Thompson of THE NEW YORK TIMES

Anton Diffring and the ringmaster witness the horror! With a text that might scare the horns off a billygoat, Circus of Horrors turns out to be the crispest, handsomest and most stylish movie shocker in a long time. Just forget Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho for the moment---the old maestro is an island unto himself. Yesterday's new arrival on the circuits is a different kind of thing entirely. As still another frankly melodramatic variation on the mad surgeon theme, it's very well handled indeed. Much better, in fact, than most. Even so, don't take the kids or Aunt Minnie.

This time the doctor is a plastic surgeon, outlawed from England, who turns up as head of a German circus, stocked with beautiful female stars. The ladies are his "creations," horribly disfigured cases (most of them with criminal records) he has transformed and trained. Any attempt to leave means an "accidental" death in full view of the audience. With a score of twelve such fatalities, and Scotland Yard watching, the "jinxed" circus arrives in London for its supreme triumph.

Bald as it may sound, this American International release projects and sustains an electric tension, without splashing gore in the viewer's eyes. Under Sidney Hayers' keen direction, it moves swiftly and succinctly toward a finale that nearly ruins it. George Baxt's original screen play is not without imagination and intelligence along the way, and the same goes for the performances of a cast headed by Anton Diffring.

As two of the doomed ladies, Vanda Hudson, as an equestrienne queen, and especially Erika Remberg, as a peppery high-wire specialist, are as fetching as they are convincing. Donald Pleasence, Yvonne Monlaur, Jane Hylton, and Conrad Phillips, among the others, are also good.

Pleasence as Vanet The question is, who are all these people? This is a British picture, first of all. And Julian Wintle and Leslie Parkyn, the producers, are the team responsible for Tiger Bay---a clue, at least as to why the "circus" isn't the qualitative horror it might have been. For that matter, and perhaps best of all, the beguiling color photography superbly captures the big-top glitter and atmosphere.

The ending, enfolding two murders, a half-crazed woman, a standard chase and the phoniest-looking gorilla we've ever laid eyes on, nearly collapses the tent and the movie. But for a hair-raiser that could have wallowed in primeval absurdities, Circus of Horrors is surprisingly civilized.

Review from the September 1, 1960 edition of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Review © 1960 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.


Above photo courtesy of Tim Murphy

Photos © 1960 LYNX FILMS LIMITED. All Rights Reserved.

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