Circus of Horrors – UK, 1960

‘One man’s lust… made men into beasts, stripped women of their souls!’

Circus of Horrors is a 1960 British horror feature film directed by Sidney Hayers (Deadly Strangers; Revenge; Assault; Night of the Eagle) from a screenplay by George Baxt (Tower of Evil); The Shadow of the CatThe City of the Dead).The movie stars Anton Diffring,Yvonne Monlaur, Erika Remberg and Kenneth Griffith.

Circus of Horrors (Sidney Hayers, Reino Unido, 1960).avi_001827450

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The film was the third entry in what author and critic David Pirie referred to as Anglo-Amalgamated’s “Sadean trilogy”, focusing on sadism, cruelty and violence (with sexual undertones) rather than, say, the supernatural horror of the Hammer films in the same era. The previous films in the trilogy were Horrors of the Black Museum and Peeping Tom (both 1959).

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England, 1947: Dr. Rossiter (Anton Diffring) is a plastic surgeon wanted by the police after an operation goes hideously wrong. However, believing himself to have brilliant abilities as a surgeon, he and his assistants (Kenneth Griffith and Jane Hylton) evade capture and escape to France.

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Somewhere in France: Rossiter has changed his name to Schüler, and befriended a circus owner (Donald Pleasence) on whose deformed daughter Nicole (played by Carol Challoner as a child, Yvonne Monlaur as an adult) he operates. Schüler manipulates his way into running the circus, taking it over when the owner dies in a freak “accident”.

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Berlin, ten years later: Schüler is running an internationally successful circus (although it is known as the “jinx circus” due to the high number of ‘accidental’ deaths), which he uses as a front for his surgical exploits.

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He befriends deformed women and transforms them for his “Temple of Beauty”. However, when they threaten to leave, they meet with mysterious “accidents”…

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Reviews:

“Pretty nasty for its time, with a strong performance from Diffring, good cinematography and crisp direction from Sidney Hayers.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

” … Anglo Amalgamated produced three remarkably similar and disturbing horror pictures during 1959-60, all of which have a perverse sexual obsession with voyeurism, disfigurement and murder […] Circus of Horrors, while quite good, is the weakest of the lot, marred by some bad direction, poorly integrated circus footage, and two “dangerous animals” – a dancing bear and a gorilla – that are obviously stuntmen in ratty costumes.” James J. Mulay (editor), The Horror Film, Cinebooks, 1989

” …Circus of Horrors comes off as lurid, garish melodrama, unfeasibly plotted and stuffed full of sadism and busty babes to keep less discerning minds occupied. But, let’s face it, you’re probably on of those less discerning minds, or you wouldn’t be reading this […] It has to be said, Circus of Horrors looks great (that Eastmancolor stock works a treat) and, for all its ludicrousness, it’s a hoot.” Jed Raven, The Shrieking Sixties: British Horror Films 1960 – 1969by Darrell Buxton (editor), Midnight Marquee Press, 2010

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“It’s pure pulp and full steam ahead, but it’s the subtext that grows ever more intriguing. Being set in postwar Europe, where the characters can’t walk ten steps without bumping into some new facial scar, the film ventures some early anti-war comment that primes us to see Diffring as a kind of renegade Nazi surgeon.” Tim Lucas, PauseRewindObsess

” …it’s one of the greatest ‘guilty pleasures’ British horror has to offer. Packing in as much sex and violence as the censors would permit – and doing it so in a maniacally exploitative style – it makes the sadistic content of the period’s Hammer horrors look timid by comparison. It inaugurates a tradition of voyeuristic, and very British, sleaze which wouldn’t come into full flower until the early 1970s.” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: A Century of Gothic Cinema

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“Great color lensing by Douglas Slocombe (The Fearless Vampire Killers) effortlessly mixes the backstage action with the staged acts and real ones. Only some audience reaction shots where the focus is bad shows anything less than perfect camerawork. The cutting is particularly good, lending the impression that Yvonne Romain is really attacked by a cageful of lions, and giving an ‘accident’ during a knife-throwing act a really brutal sting.” Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk

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“It offers the requisite grisly deaths and scantily-clad babes, but it also offers a mesmerizing performance by Anton Diffring as the clipped calculating cold-hearted Dr. Rossiter. He’s twisted and classy at once, as is the entire film.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws and Saucers

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” … the use of the circus as an attraction which, like the film, trades on the expectation of mutilation or the grotesque, show Hayers to be in control of the macabre or sexy aspects of the spectacle. But the sequences linking those attractions together, such as the police investigations of the murder, are flat and lifeless.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

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Circus of Horrors is filled with warped images of beauty and disfigurement. Buxom women clad in sexy lingerie have scarred or bandaged faces and circus performers do not defy death but are claimed by it. Like the best circus acts, you can’t look but you also can’t look away. This is the first and best in England’s “horror circus” subgenre…” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956 – 1976

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“Diffring plays Schüller with wicked superiority, barely flicking an eyelid as a tart he fancies brutally stabs an elderly customer; later, he is viciously assaulted by a maltreated ape and with half his face torn off, he waves away assistance with a dismissive, ‘Purely superficial’.” John Hamilton, X-Cert

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“Wonderfully graphic deaths in all three rings. Sick but engaging.” John Stanley, Creature Features

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“Grisly no-holds-barred drama specially geared for the more-gore customers.” Daily Cinema, 1960

” … the film’s main concern is with satisfying those who find imaginary mutilation entertaining.” Monthly Film Bulletin, 1960

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Cast and characters:

  • Anton Diffring … Dr. Schuler – Seven Death’s in the Cat’s EyesMark of the DevilThe Man Who Could Cheat DeathTales of Frankenstein TV pilot
  • Erika Remberg … Elissa Caro – Cave of the Living Dead
  • Yvonne Monlaur … Nicole Vanet – The Terror of the TongsThe Brides of Dracula
  • Donald Pleasence … Vanet
  • Jane Hylton … Angela – Journey to the UnknownThe Manster
  • Kenneth Griffith … Martin – The House in Nightmare Park; Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?; Revenge
  • Conrad Phillips … Inspector Arthur Ames
  • Jack Gwillim … Superintendent Andrews
  • Vanda Hudson … Magda von Meck
  • Yvonne Romain … Melina – Devil Doll; Captain CleggCurse of the Werewolf
  • Colette Wilde … Evelyn Morley Finsbury
  • William Mervyn … Doctor Morley
  • John Merivale … Edward Finsbury
  • Peter Swanwick … German Police Inspector Knopf
  • Walter Gotell … Von Gruber

 

Choice dialogue:

Schüler: “Quick! Get the spot off her. And send the clowns in.”

Filming locations:

Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England
Beaconsfield Studios, Beaconsfield, Buckingham, England
Clapham Common, London, England

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Categories: 1960s, British

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