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.

 

4 Shots From 4 October Films: Vampire Circus, The Beyond, The Living Dead Girl, I Madman


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Only one more month to go and it’ll be time for TSL’s annual horrorthon!  I’m already working on my October reviews.  Here’s four shots from 4 films that I’m planning on reviewing in October!

4 Shots From 4 October Films

Vampire Circus (1972, dir by Robert Young)

The Beyond (1981, dir by Lucio Fulci)

The Living Dead Girl (1982, dir by Jean Rollin)

I, Madman (1989, dir by Tibor Takacs)

Don’t worry.  It’s almost October!

The Kids Are Not All Right: 6 More Trailers That I Love


Continuing my ongoing survey of classic exploitation and grindhouse film trailers, here’s six more.  

1) Simon, King of the Witches — I’ve never seen this film but I caught this trailer on one of the 42nd Street compilation DVDs.  It doesn’t really make me want to see the film but I love the trailer because it is just so totally and utterly shameless.  Seriously, could this thing be more early 70s?  As well, I’ve always wondered — would witches actually have a king?  I mean, seriously, get with the times.

The film, by the way, stars Andrew Prine who apparently had a really promising film career until his girlfriend, Karyn Kupicent, died mysteriously in 1964.  A lot of people believed that Prine killed her though he always denied any guilt and there’s really no evidence to connect him to the crime.  Interestingly, even more people seem to think that Kupicent was murdered because she knew something about John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  Finally, true crime author Steve Hodel has suggested that Kupicent was actually murdered by his father, Dr. George Hodel.  (Steve also claims that George was the Black Dahlia killer, the Zodiac killer, Chicago’s lipstick killer, and that George was responsible for just about every unsolved murder in history.  Oedipus much?)

2) The Town That Dreaded Sundown Though I didn’t consider this while selecting this trailer, this is another film that features the unfortunate Robert Prine.  I’ve seen this film exactly one time when it showed up on late night television once.  Unfortunately, considering that it was 4 in the morning and the movie was obviously heavily edited for television (not to mention that constant commercial interruptions), I didn’t really get to experience the film under ideal circumstances.  As a result, I’ve been trying to track this movie down on DVD ever since.  It’s not an easy film to find.

One of the reasons this movie fascinates me is because it’s not only based on a true unsolved crime but it actually follows the facts of the case fairly closely.  In the late 40s, Texarkana was stalked by a masked gunman known as the Phantom Killer.  The case was never solved and its gone on to become a bit of a local legend in the rural Southwest.  Part of my interest in this case comes from the fact that I grew up in the rural Southwest.  It’s the part of the country I know best and this film was actually filmed in the southwest as opposed to just an arid part of Canada.  Interestingly enough, the Phantom Killer had a lot of similarities to the later Zodiac Killer.  However, as far as I know, Steve Hodel has yet to accuse his father of haunting Texarkana.

The film itself was made by Charles B. Pierce, a filmmaker who was based in Arkansas and made several independent films in that state.  Perhaps this explains why the trailer refers to “Texarkana, Arkansas” even though everyone knows that the only part of Texarkana that matters is the part that’s in Texas.

3) Nightmares in a Damaged Brain This is one of the infamous “video nasties” (trust the English to not only ban movies but to come up with a stupid and annoying label for those movies).  Like many of those films, this is a gory Italian film that seems to bathe in the sordid. 

It’s also fairly difficult film to find.  The DVD I own is actually a copy of the severely cut version that was eventually released in England, of all places.

(Another thing about the English — why is it that a culture that obsessively uses the word “cunt” in casual conversation seems so driven to distraction by a little fake blood?  It’s as if someone told them that banning movies would somehow make up for the attempted genocide of Catholics in Northern Ireland.)   

However, even in cut form, this is a disturbingly dark and frequently depressing film.  Evil seemed to radiate through my entire apartment the whole time I was watching it and that atmosphere is captured in the movie’s trailer.

As a sidenote, the gore effects in this film are credited to Tom Savini.  At the time of the film’s release, Savini announced that he actually had nothing to do with this movie.

4) To the Devil a Daughter — I recently read a biography of Christopher Lee in which he cited this movie, along with the original Whicker Man, as one of his personal favorites.  It was also the film debut of Natassia Kinski, the daughter of Klaus Kinski.  Considering Klaus’s reputation, the title is ironic.

5) Vampire Circus This is another movie that I’ve never seen but I’ve heard great things about it.  Supposedly, its one of the last great Hammer vampire films.  Reportedly, it was controversial at the time of its release because it featured vampires attacking English children.  (Which, if nothing else, at least prevented from growing up to kill little Irish children.)  Seeing the trailer leaves me even more frustrated that it has yet to be released, in the States, on DVD.

6) Dr. Butcher, M.D. — This is actually a rather odd zombie/cannibal film hybrid from Italy.  It was originally titled Zombie Holocaust but the American distributors retitled it Dr. Butcher.  I love this trailer for much the same reason I love the Simon, King of the Witches trailer.  It is just pure and shameless exploitation.  Plus, it features some of the best moments of the great Donal O’Brien’s performance as the “title” character.  I recently forced my sister Erin to watch Zombie Holocaust.  Ever since, whenever I start to ramble too much, she simply looks at me and says, “Lisa’s annoying me.  About to perform removal of vocal chords…”  She actually does a fairly good impersonation.  Consider this just more proof that the Grindhouse brings families closer together.