The Film (3.5/5)
I have been a Hammer junkie since my early teens. Hammer's pulp horror and science fictions films which melded beautiful Technicolor horror theatrics, with copious amounts of gothic atmosphere, became an addictive cinematic drug to my burgeoning horror fan mind. It didn't hurt that most of the ones I had seen at the time featured Christopher Lee (who is my all-time favorite actor) and/or Peter Cushing in the leads. Vampire Circus does not feature Lee, Cushing, or any of the other Hammer superstars, however it does have the atmosphere that made Hammer horror films a hit with horror fans the world over.
Vampire Circus was made in 1972 during a period where Hammer as a film making entity was doing whatever it could do to survive in the changing genre marketplace. Horror films had become more extreme in this period, and Hammer's films were considered almost polite in comparison to the films coming out at the time. Prior to making Vampire Circus Hammer had just made a series of erotic lesbian vampire films such as Countess Dracula, Lust for a Vampire, and the Vampire Lovers, and Vampire Circus is forged from the same mold as those. And while Vampire Circus, uses many elements typical of those films, and of the vampire genre as a whole it also has a tendency to take the genre in much more extreme and startling directions.
Vampire Circus begins with a 12 minute pre-credit sequence, which sets up the story, and sort of acts like a mini-movie before the actual feature. Which features a Mother, Anna Muller, and her young daughter going to the castle of Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman). The Mother sacrifices her daughter to the vampire, before engaging in a sexual romp with the Count. While this is going on a lynch mob is organizing in the nearby village, they end up attacking and burning down the castle killing Count Mitterhaus in the process. His body is taken down to the cellar by Anna, and put into the crypt. As he died he swore his revenge on the town, and sent Anna from the castle to enact his plan.
The story then skips ahead 15 years, the village has recently fallen victim to the plague, and the townspeople are blaming the Count's curse. In the midst of this a circus breaks through the quarantine, and sets up shop in the village beginning to perform nightly shows. The village is grateful for the distraction from their dismal plague-ridden existence, until the performers begin enacting Count Mitterhaus' revenge upon the people, and most notably the children of the village.
The child element is what really sets Vampire Circus apart from other vampire films. Most films avoid showing the endangerment and death of children, Vampire Circus on the other hand, bases its whole plot around the concept. I would say that the Biblical quote about the sins of the fathers would apply here, however, Count Mitterhaus from the very first scene appears to have bloodlust for local children, and the circus when they begin enacting his revenge similarly follow suit.
The film is a very lush looking film from Hammer. In one of the featurettes included on the disc Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas suggest that more than any other Hammer production to date, this one was heavily influenced by the work of Bergman and Fellini, and one can definitely see those elements, although Vampire Circus lacks the depth of their respective works, the influence is indeed welcome. The film also feels rushed, according to the featurette included with the disc, apparently the film went over budget, and over schedule, and Hammer pulled the plug prior to some vital scenes being filmed. That being said, Vampire Circus, is quite a good film in Hammer's oeuvre, and while not up to the same standards as their earlier vampire films still offers a good way to spend a few hours.
I will admit that this was my first viewing of Hammer's Vampire Circus, so I do not have any point of comparison for the transfer, however, I can honestly say this is probably the best the film has looked since it's premiere, and that the transfer courtesy of Synapse Films is absolutely amazing.
Hammer Films are known for their lush colors, and those colors truly pop here. The level of detail here is fantastic, and the black levels are quite solid. Synapse has presented the film in it's original 1:66:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The audio is presented in a nicely remastered English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio track. The audio is of excellent quality, music, effects, and dialogue are mixed well, and no background noise, popping, or distortion can be heard on the track.
Vampire Circus is truly a special edition. The transfer is marvelous, and Synapse has loaded the disc with a good deal of extra features. The most substantial extra is the featurette The Bloodiest Show on Earth: Making Vampire Circus, which features interviews with Tim Lucas, Joe Dante, Philip Nutman, Ted Newsom, and David Prowse (in archival footage) who go into the history of the film, and it's problematic production. This is followed with what can only be described as a visual essay on the history of circus horror films called Gallery of Grotesqueries : A Brief History of Circus Horrors. The final featurette is called Visiting the House of Hammer: Britain's Legendary Horror Magazine, which goes into the history of Hammer's horror magazine. The disc is rounded off by a stills gallery, and the original U.K. trailer for the film, also presented in high definition.
While not one of Hammer's best films it is still quite an enjoyable vampire yarn. The transfer on this Blu-ray is absolutely stunning, and Hammer's famous Technicolor look comes across beautifully here. The audio is of similar high quality, and the extras really push this set over the top. This Blu-ray of Vampire Circus comes highly recommended.