From the DVD case: A deranged plastic surgeon (Anton Diffring) takes over a traveling circus then transforms horribly disfigured young women into ravishing beauties and forces them to perform in his three-ring extravaganza. But when the re-sculpted lovelies try to escape the clutches of the obsessed doctor, they begin to meet with sudden and horrific “accidents.” Now the trapeze is swinging, the knives are flying, the wild animals are loose, and “The Grisliest Show On Earth” is about to begin! (1960, color)
Mark says: Circus of Horrors is Anglo Amalgamated’s attempt to cash in on Hammer Films successful formula of combining horror with sexuality. The film works rather well, and though considered tame by today’s standards, it still has the power to shock and entertain.
German actor Anton Diffring (Fahrenheit 451) is excellent in the role of Dr. Rossiter, alias Dr. Bernard Schueler, a gifted plastic surgeon forced underground for his unsound surgical methods and a botched job on a high-profile client. Diffring plays the part with evil arrogance and his performance becomes even more enjoyable as he slips into madness and sexual perversion.
To say that the plot of Circus of Horrors is implausible is an understatement. Dr. Rossiter (now Schueler) populates his circus with former female murderers and prostitutes. All of the women suffer severe facial deformities until Schueler transforms them into regular beauties. He then forces them into careers as circus performers. Of course, after their transformations, Schueler becomes romantically involved with them. That is, until the next maimed girl comes along.
The women are never allowed to quit the show as Schueler holds their criminal pasts over them. If one insists on leaving, she meets a sudden and suspicious demise. These bizarre “accidents” happen so often that Schueler’s circus becomes known as “The Jinx Circus,” and eventually the authorities become involved.
Schueler is assisted by a brother and sister team, Kenneth Griffith as Martin, and Jane Hylton (The Manster) as Angela. Martin and Angela both believe in Schueler’s work at the outset, but become increasingly disillusioned as he falls further into obsession. This is particularly hard on Angela, who loves Schueler, as she not only has to watch him descend into madness, but also has to put up with his affairs. Watch Angela’s face when she tears off Schueler’s bandage toward the end of the film. I always laugh when I see her expression of maddened delight.
Circus of Horrors is stocked with voluptuous women in scant costumes. Of note, Erika Remberg (Night of the Vampires) plays Elissa, the jealous and ambitious rope-trick girl who tries to blackmail Schueler for top billing (that’s her pictured above). Vanda Hudson is Magda von Meck, who meets a particularly gruesome end at the hand of a knife-thrower.
You’ll also recognize Yvonne Romain (The Curse of the Werewolf, Corridors of Blood) as Melina, the amateur lion tamer. Yvonne Monlaur (Brides of Dracula) plays Nicole Vanet, the innocent girl raised by Dr. Schueler. In addition, Colette Wilde (The Day of the Triffids) does a superb job portraying Evelyn Morley Finsbury, the woman Schueler mangled during a botched surgery attempt.
Also look for Donald Pleasence (Halloween, Fantastic Voyage) as the original circus owner, Vanet.
Make-up artist, Trevor Crole-Rees, does an admirable job making the actresses appear scarred and disfigured. You’ll see more of his work in such films as The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.
Though Circus of Horrors is not much more than a cheesy shockfest, it does have its suspenseful moments. The pacing is fairly swift, but drags during some of the circus acts. For entertainment value, I would place it along the same lines as Horrors of the Black Museum.
Original screenplay written by George Baxt (Horror Hotel).
Directed by Sidney Hayers (Burn, Witch, Burn).
Scene to watch for: It’s never a good idea to get drunk, prod a bear out of sleep, and then force him to dance with you. Even if the bear is obviously fake.
Line to listen for: “I must say, she’s even better at eliciting applause than she was at soliciting men.”
Trivia: The song, “Look for a Star” used throughout the film became a pop hit on both British and American charts.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.