We continue our tour of vampiric cinema with another Hammer Horror selection, Vampire Circus. Made in 1972, this film lacks the “heavy hitters” of Hammer’s past vampire films but does feature Adrienne Corri whose role as rape victim in A Clockwork Orange may be the only way most Americans would recognize her despite a long career on British television. Like most of these late period Hammer films, cheap thrills abound and bare breasted victims have their scenes punctuated by bright red blood splatters and awkward special effects.
The Victorian era vampires are at it again. Count Mitterhaus has a taste for the blood of children and his ghoulish mistress, the wife of the schoolmaster has been luring them to the castle for him. The townsfolk, riled to action by Prof. Mueller attack the castle to end his fiendish ways. The Count is staked and his castle set alight but his lover Anna hides his body and runs to find his kinsmen who will restore his un-life. Years pass and the town is beset by a plague so virulent that the neighboring towns have closed the roads to prevent it’s spread. The superstitious townsfolk blame the Count’s curse but Dr. Kersh believes it is a variety of rabies and with the help of his son Anton, he slips past the roadblock and rides to the capital for medicine. At the same time a travelling circus arrives and promise the inhabitants a distraction from their suffering with clowns, wild animals, tumblers, and magic tricks. However, this is a Vampire Circus! Disguised as performers the Count’s kinsmen and his lover have returned to lure the children of the village to him and sacrifice them. The Professor and Anton must try to defend the young people, including the Professor’s daughter, Dora from the corrupting appetites of the monsters!
From the opening scenes of child murder and naked tussling followed by the stabbing, staking and burning, the rest seems slow paced in comparison. That’s not to say the the film is tame. A family is mauled and their tattered bodies left to rot in the forest, the blood of several more children is drunk, musket balls blast through the strongman and the stakings and beheadings are full of crimson splatter. There is also the overt dance of the lion tamer and a nude woman in tiger striped body paint. I’m not sure how the superstitious Victorian-era villagers could resist burning these two on the spot for their sexual depravity. I suppose it could be explained by the bewitching effects of vampires but it’s not family entertainment. Put the kids to bed.
The story itself is tangled between the many characters and plots. The action advances from scene to scene with some setups that do little to hide that it is a story of moments rather than a well thought out whole. The Count’s thirst for the blood of the children of those that killed him is an amusing precursor to Freddy Krueger but the romance between the Dr. and Prof.’s children is obvious as they are the only two young people left alive by the mid-point of the story. Dora is not a complete damsel in distress and manages to stake one of the vampires with a coincidentally pointy crucifix but she is helpless two minutes later as the scene calls for her to be captured to motivate the men to action. The men who, two minutes earlier had left to kill the vampire, meaning they would have crossed paths with the abductors. It reinforces that Hammer audiences were not turning out for the stories. As a Hammer vampire film; yeah. S’alright. Just don’t expect the legitimate chills of earlier Hammer vampires and accept it for the exploitation film it is.
Does it pass the Bechdel? The only long conversation between two women is the Burgermeister’s daughter whining to her mother to let her go get sexed up by the vampires again. Apparently flattery will get you everywhere, including dead in a vampire’s tomb.