Saturday, November 24, 2012

Vampire Circus (1972)

As the 70's wore on, it was starting to become obvious that old Hammer standbys like Dracula and Frankenstein were beginning to grow out of fashion. People still loved the characters. It was just that there had been several movies with them, and the decade that gave us the likes of "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" saw the landscape of horror change. There were still plenty of Gothic horror films from this era, but even they began to rely more of blood and female nudity to appease the masses. How did Hammer respond? Well, there were misfires like "Scars of Dracula" and "Lust for a Vampire", and then there's more impressive entries. Films like "Vampire Circus", which managed to capture the changing of the guard whilst still holding on to what made Hammer Studios what it was.

The last thing a dentist wants to see

In the 16th century, the children of a small town have been disappearing, and the nefarious Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman) is blamed by the townspeople, who proceed to kill him. However, he places a curse on the town, and has a girl named Ana (Domini Blythe ) contact his cousin Emil (Anthony Corlan.) Decades later, the town has seen better days, and what do ya know, a carnival full of strange people (including "Star Wars" and "A Clockwork Orange" actor David Prowse as a strongman) rolls in. Soon though, dead bodies begin to show up, children go missing, and it seems that the curse of Mitterhaus is rolling into fruition.

I'd be lying if I said that "Vampire Circus" is a flawless movie. For one thing, there are (brief) scenes that rely on stock footage, and while it isn't too obvious, it still feels a bit distracting. Plus, the thing feels a bit illogical and rushed at times, with things such as crucifixes and stakes being used to kill vampires end up feeling undercooked, and it does feel a little rushed near the end.

Still, this is a solid little movie that bleeds atmosphere and eroticism. In fact, this is probably the most erotically charged of Hammer's vampire films, with scenes such as vampire lovemaking and a very suggestive dance between a leopard woman and her partner oozes sexuality. There's also a feeling of absolute evil that is hard to shake off, particularly the fact that even children are in danger here. Granted, children in danger is nothing new in horror, but to actually see something like a vampire sinking it's teeth into one's neck is an unsettling image. Oh, and those hoping for blood will be pleased. This isn't a splatter film, but there's moments that are pretty strong for a Hammer movie, in particular a leopard killing a family, some vicious stake impalement and decapitation. Fortunately, it's all handled pretty well (much better than the two aforementioned misfires) and helps add to the whole 70's vibe the thing has going to it.

Oh shit, I left the oven on!

For fans of Hammer, "Vampire Circus" is both worth a watch and one of the better vampire films they released in the 70's. Now if you could excuse me, there's a circus coming into town...

Rating: 7.5/10

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