Review: Circus of Horrors
Updated: Oct 12
Sidney Hayers’ classic 1960s horror is available on Blu-Ray for the first time
Written by Martin Parsons
There must have been something in the air in early 1960 – one month after Georges Franju’s seminal Eyes Without a Face, a film about a possessive doctor obsessed with fixing a young woman’s facial disfigurement, along came this film about a possessive doctor obsessed with fixing young women’s facial disfigurements. But whereas Franju took the potentially trashy premise and fashioned a subtle, haunting film with a fantastical atmosphere of loss and sorrow, Sidney Hayers’ Circus of Horrors pushes the idea to lurid and ludicrous extremes.
Anton Diffring plays Dr Rossiter, a discredited plastic surgeon who escapes England for the continent, under the guise of Dr Schuler, in search of a good front for his surgical experimentation. Chance brings him to Donald Pleasence’s failing circus, which Schuler ends up in control of. Touring round Europe, Schuler fixes up young women’s faces in return for them working in his show. However, his possessive nature means that those who try to leave are in for a nasty shock. The deaths earn the troupe the epithet of ‘the Jinx Circus’. Returning to England, Schuler plans to reveal his greatest surgical achievement – but Scotland Yard are growing suspicious.
The cast is strong, though the writing leaves many of them with little to work with. Diffring is convincingly febrile as Schuler, suave but chilling. Erika Remberg gets the meatiest supporting role as thief, murderer and prostitute turned aerial acrobat Elissa. Her spectacles, with the aggravatingly catchy pop tune ‘Look for a Star’, are the visual highlight of the film. Donald Pleasence’s extended cameo is predictably excellent, albeit far too brief.
Coming from Anglo-Amalgamated Productions, the third in what David Pirie described as their Sadian trilogy, Circus of Horrors lacks the genuinely troubling sleaziness of Peeping Tom, making a better double bill with the sillier Horrors of the Black Museum. The shoddy ape costume and melodramatic longueurs let down the whole, but the murder scenes are genuinely tense and brilliantly directed, and the overall oddness make it well worth a watch. This new 4K scan makes the film a more pleasurable prospect than it has been for a long time, restoring to the film the cartoonish, pulpy hues that the barmy story demands.
Circus of Horrors will be released on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 12th October 2020.
Bonus content includes:
NEW Interview with critic and author Kim Newman
NEW Interview with broadcaster Stuart Maconie
Behind-the-scenes stills gallery
Director: Sidney Hayers
Screenwriter: George Baxt
Cast: Anton Diffring, Jane Hylton, Erika Remberg
Running Time: 92 mins