The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Vampire Circus (dir by Robert Young)


One of the greatest Hammer vampire films didn’t even star Christopher Lee.  In fact, it wasn’t even a Dracula film.  Instead, it was the story of a circus.

1971’s Vampire Circus tells the dark story of a Serbian village called Stetl.  Early in the 19th century, the children of Stetl are dying.  The superstitious villagers believe that Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman) might be responsible.  In fact, they suspect that Count Metterhaus might be a vampire!  Why?  Well, first off, he only seems to be around during the night.  Secondly, he lives in a big spooky castle.  Third, he’s a count and don’t all counts eventually become vampires?

Now, it would be nice to say that all this turned out to be a case of the villagers letting their imaginations get the better of them but nope.  It turns out that they’re pretty much right.  One night, the local teacher, Albert Muller (Laurence Payne), sees his own wife, Anna (Domini Blythe) leading a child towards the dark castle.  It turns out that Anna has fallen under the spell of Count Mitterhaus.  The villagers promptly drive a stake through the Count’s heart, though he manages to do two things before dying.  First off, he curses the town and announces that the blood of their children will give him new life.  Secondly, he tells Anna to escape and track down his brother.

Fifteen years later and, as one might expect, Stetl is a town under siege.  However, the town is not being attacked by vampires.  (Not yet anyway.)  Instead, the town has been hit by the plague and, as a result, it’s been isolated from the outside world.  Men with guns have surrounded the town and are under orders to kill anyone who tries to leave or enter.  Some in the village believe that this is the result of the Count’s dying curse while others just see it as more evidence of man’s inhumanity to man.  Regardless, it’s not good situation.

Fortunately, escape arrives in the form of the Circus of the Night!  That’s right, a gypsy carnival suddenly appears in town.  How did it manage to slip by the blockade?  Who knows and who cares?  What’s important is that the villagers, especially their children, need an escape from their grim existence and the Circus seems to offer something for everyone.  There are dancers.  There are acrobats.  There’s the mysterious tiger woman.  There’s a mirror that makes you see strange things.  And, of course, the are vampires….

That’s not really a shock, of course.  The name of the film is Vampire Circus, after all.  What always takes me by surprise is just how ruthless and cruel the vampires are in this film.  Even by the standards of a 1970s Hammer film, this is a blood-filled movie but, even beyond that, the vampires almost exclusively seem to target children.  Fortunately, all of Stetl’s children tend to be a bit obnoxious but it’s still a shock to see two fresh-faced boys get lured into a mirror where they are both promptly attacked by a vampire.  (And don’t even get me started on what happens when one of the vampires comes across a boarding school.)  Make no mistake, this circus is not made up of the type of self-tortured, romanticized vampires that have dominated recent films.  These vampire are utterly viscous and without conscience.  In other words, these vampires are actually frightening.

The members of the circus are, themselves, a memorable bunch.  David Prowse is the hulking strongman.  Lalla Ward and Robin Sachs are the achingly pretty, innocent-faced twin acrobats who greedily drink the blood of anyone foolish enough to wander off with them.  Some members of the circus can transform into animals.  What’s interesting is that not all of the members of the circus are vampires.  Some of them, I guess, are just groupies.

Featuring the reddest blood that you’re ever likely to see and a cast of memorably eccentric character actors, Vampire Circus often feels more like an extremely dark fairy tale than a typical Hammer vampire film.  Clocking in at 87 minutes, Vampire Circus is a briskly paced dream of carnivals and monsters.

 

A Movie A Day #292: The Bride (1985, directed by Franc Roddam)


The Bride opens where most films about Frankenstein and his monster end.

The Baron (played by fucking Sting, of all people) has agreed to create a bride for his creation, who in this movie is named Viktor and played by Clancy Brown.  Jennifer Beals plays the Bride, who is named Eva.  Eva looks like a normal, beautiful wielder-turned-dancer so when she first sees Viktor, she screams.  Viktor gets upset and starts to trash the laboratory.  “Don’t be impertinent!’ snaps the Baron’s assistant (Quentin Crisp).  A fire breaks out.  Quentin Crisp dies and so does another assistant played by Timothy Spall.  The monster escapes.  The Baron takes Eva into his household.  The Baron is obsessed with controlling Eva, who wants her independence and who has fallen in love with Cary Elwes.  When Eva sees a cat, she screams.  “You never told me about cats,” she tells the Baron, “I thought it was a tiny lion!”

The rest of the movie is a bewildering collection of cameos from respected thespians forced to recite some of the worst dialogue in film history.  Viktor befriends Rinaldo the dwarf (David Rappaport), who tells Viktor about how much he dreams of one day seeing Venice.  After Rinaldo is murdered by Alexei Sayle, Viktor swears that he will go to Venice and he will take Eva with him.

(Timothy Spall,  Quentin Crisp, and Alexei Sayle are not the only British performers to be strangely miscast in The Bride.  Keep an eye out for Phil Daniels, Ken Campbell, and Tony Haygarth, all wasted in small roles.)

The Bride attempts to put a revisionist, feminist spin on the story of Frankenstein but it ultimately just looks like a two hour Duran Duran video, with a guest vocals provided by Sting.  The scenes with Clancy Brown and David Rappaport work but otherwise, every important role is miscast.  Jennifer Beals is monotonous as the Bride and Sting never comes close to suggesting that he is capable of the type of mad genius that would be necessary to create life.  When it comes to the Bride of Frankenstein, stick with the original.

One final note: Both Sting and Phil Daniels also appeared in a much better film from Franc Roddam, Quadrophenia.  I recommend seeing Quadrophenia almost as much as I recommend forgetting about The Bride.