In the small village of Stetl, there lies a creepy, Gothic castle (is there any other kind?). Inside, lives Count Mitterhaus, a reclusive nobleman who is clearly harboring some sort of dark secret. Spoiler: the secret is he has the most perfectly coiffed hair you’ll ever come across. Second spoiler: he’s a fucking vampire! The town is seemingly cursed as its children go missing. Well, it turns out our friend, the Count, has been feeding on the children of Stetl. On top of that, he is also fucking the wives of the men…just to rub salt in wound.
Look at how much this shithead loves being a vampire!
The dude is a complete scumbag. So the villagers do what villagers do in these films. They round up an angry lynch mob, storm the castle, and stake Count Asshat in his heart. Just before he dies, he swears vengeance by cursing all of the men’s children and vows that he will eventually be resurrected! Fast forward fifteen years and the town of Stetl seems positively cursed. People are suffering from some sort of plague and roadblocks keep anyone from leaving. Then, out of nowhere, a mysterious traveling circus shows up. The “Circus of Night” appears to be the remedy needed for these downtrodden villagers. Each night they attend the circus to be amazed and amused. However, all is not as it seems and things go from bad to nightmarishly worse. Welcome to the Vampire Circus!
If you’re a lover of classic horror then you’re undoubtedly knowledgable about Hammer Films. They’re the studio that made Gothic horror marketable after the Sci-Fi boom in the 1950s. Vampire Circus is a HUGE departure from the typical Hammer vampire film. This came out in 1971…well past the studio’s heyday. Their formidable Dracula series had lost its proverbial bite, and the Frankenstein films were fairing no better. So they were open to “one off” films and ideas outside of their comfort zone. Thankfully, this makes Vampire Circus feel drastically different and unique.
Never trust a Jester. Ever.
The film uses the classic horror trope of a traveling Circus/Carnival showing up and bestowing evil upon a town. It’s an idea that’s ripe with novel concepts and Vampire Circus uses it to great effect. The sights and sounds of the “Circus of Night” are weird, sensual, and provides the film with an almost mesmerizing quality. It’s as if you, the viewer, is being seduced by this traveling hell on wooden wheels. A big part of this is Robert Young’s directing of the film, as it is laced with some very 70’s arthouse moments that add beauty and mystique. This looks and sounds like NOTHING Hammer Films has ever done before.
Erotic Tiger Woman? Check!
Coupling this style with the downright horrifying elements of the circus abducting children and seducing women gives it this forbidden fruit appeal. The movie had remained impossibly obscure to find until a few years ago when Synapse Films released it uncut on Blu Ray. Make no mistake, this is certainly a “deeper cut” in the vampire genre, but one that aficionados will want to positively devour.
I’m always on the lookout for different and interesting horror films. Vampire Circus is certainly a “one of a kind” experience. Its mixture of 70’s art-house sexuality, a Federico Fellini inspired circus, touches of Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal, and Hammer’s own horror sensibilities make it one death defying performance any horror fan won’t want to miss.
It’s Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, playing the Strong-Man!
You’ve got a mischievous jester, humans transforming into animals, a hulking strong man played by Darth Vader actor David Prowse, and classic vampire goodness on full display. If you like Hammer’s brand of horror, but you also have an affinity for strange curiosities like the 7 Faces of Dr. Lao or the classic Something Wicked This Way Comes, then you’ll find plenty of unearthly delights at the Vampire Circus. Check it out this Halloween!