Circus of Horrors
circus of horrors | sidney hayers | george baxt | anton diffring | erika remberg | yvonne monlaur | circus | drama | united kingdom | yvonne romain | donald pleasence | jane hylton | kenneth griffith | conrad phillips | jack gwillim | vanda hudson | mad scientist
Film: Circus of Horrors
Director: Sidney Hayers
Writer: George Baxt
Starring: Anton Diffring, Erika Remberg and Yvonne Monlaur
This was an interesting movie that when I saw the title while looking at horror films from 1960, it intrigued me. I was trying to find a movie to pair this as a Featured Review, but decided that I would make it the last Journey through the Aughts film for 2020. All I really knew was that the title came up when looking at movies Donald Pleasence was in and that I heard I believe Moodz from the 22 Shots of Moodz and Horror bring up how wild his performance was. To get into this though, the synopsis is in 1947 England, a plastic surgeon must beat a hasty retreat to France when one of his patients has a ghastly problem with her surgery. Once there, he operates on a circus owner’s daughter and assumes ownership as payment.
Much as the synopsis was stating, we’re seeing a woman go crazy in what turns out to be a remote cottage. Her name is Evelyn Morley (Colette Wilde). She removed her bandages and what she sees upsets her. Trying to find her is her father, Doctor Morley (William Mervyn) and her at the time fiancé Edward Finsbury (John Merviale). There seems to be talk that a doctor was told not to operate so they assume she’s been kidnapped or she’s upset. We then see the doctor in question, Posstier (Anton Diffring). He is fleeing and actually runs through a barricade of people. This causes him to crash his car which leads to a fiery result. He does survive, getting to the house of Angela (Jane Hylton) and Martin (Kenneth Griffith).
The trio flees to France. The two helped with the scarring and changing Posstier’s face and he’s now assuming the identity of Dr. Schuler. They’re trying to lay low, but Dr. Schuler still wants to work his magic. This leads them to a circus. They ask a young girl of Nicole Vanet (Carla Challoner) for directions, but she doesn’t know. She tells Schuler to ask her father. He runs the circus and is Pleasence. Schuler makes Vanet a deal. He will fix Nicole’s face as it is disfigured due to bombs from World War II. In return, he wants to run this circus. It will still belong to Vanet, but behind the scenes it is signed over to Schuler. After an untimely ‘accident’ with a drunken Vanet and a dancing bear, Schuler assumes full control.
This circus is to be a front for Schuler and his two assistants. His plan is to seek out those that need his surgical abilities, help them and force them to perform in the circus. Schuler can’t reveal who he truly is and the people he is helping have pasts as well. The first is a thief and killer named Elissa Caro (Erika Remberg). The movie shifts 10 years into the future, where the circus is performing in Berlin. Elissa is upset she isn’t top billing. Instead, Schuler’s favorite of Magda von Meck (Vanda Hudson) is. She wants to leave as she is engaged to marry a rich man. This circus has taken on the moniker of ‘The Jinx Circus’ as the stars when they seem to want to leave, meet untimely demises that look like accidents. They’re going to England next and Scotland Yard sends Insp. Arthur Desmond (Conrad Phillips) to look into this.
Now that’s where I’m going to leave my recap of this movie and where I want to start for the analysis here is that this is intriguing mash-up of two different types of movies. We’re getting the mad scientist film with Schuler as he wants to continue to operate on these beautiful women. He also doesn’t want to give them up when they want to leave. This is combined with the backdrop of the circus which I feel is an underrated location. It also oddly works together pretty seamlessly.
I want to breakdown both of these parts here a bit further. Dr. Schuler, Angela and Martin are really skilled. It appears that what forces them out of England is that they bit off more than they could chew trying to help Evelyn. This wouldn’t be able to work as easily today, but Jaime and I did listen to a podcast about how a doctor was really bad at what he did, hurt and killed a bunch of people, but was allowed to continue to practice medicine elsewhere, so it is possible especially in the 1960s. Here though, he just changes his name and continues on like nothing.
Something that should be pointed out though is that Dr. Schuler is talented. He helps Elissa, Nicole, Magda and Melina (Yvonne Romain) with reconstructing their faces. He just doesn’t want to let them go when they want to leave as he feels they owe their lives to him. He is really dealing with a God complex that causes him to be above the law. It works for him that Martin helps to stage the accidents and I mean, it is a circus, things like this could happen. I’ve been on rides there, which looking back was me taking my life out of my hands every time on got on. This group is doing it too much though.
That will take me to the circus part of the film. I love it and it is one I don’t see enough of. It tends to be cheesy though as well, I should point that out. They really did get a real circus here to make those scenes look real which makes it feel that way for sure. This also allows for animals like a bear, lions and a gorilla to be used for attacks in the movie as well which I did enjoy seeing.
I think I’ll go to the effects here next. The movie really does shy away from showing things at times. That isn’t to say that it ruins things. A lot of this feels like it could be due to coming out in 1960 so they were limited by either budget, ability to do it or censorship. The aftereffects though are fine. The blood is a bit bright as this movie is in color. I thought it looked good and the cinematography was solid.
Next should be the acting. Driffring does an excellent job in my opinion as this mad scientist. He has such an arrogance about him that fits. It really feels like everything he is saying to those around him is gospel and not to defy him. He works very well in his performance for the role. This movie does a great job with getting some beautiful women that Dr. Schuler is helping. The backdrop of the war and the state of Europe after makes sense to how these women are scarred. Remberg goes great as this feisty one who will fight back. Monlaur is so cute and innocent. I have such a crush on her. Romain and Hudson are also quite attractive. I like Hylton and Griffith as this brother/sister duo that compile with Dr. Schuler, but as they go are jaded on his treatment of them. The cameo by Pleasence and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
I really don’t have anything else to cover here besides the soundtrack. The selections fit for the most part. It does appear that they selected Look for a Star by Garry Mills. They get every penny’s worth of it by playing it a lot. I did enjoy it the first time I heard it, but they kept playing it and I got annoyed a bit by the end of it. Aside from that, I think the soundtrack works well for what was needed.
In conclusion here, I thought this was an interesting mash-up of a movie. The concept of this mad scientist using this circus as a front works for me. It really makes sense for what is happening to the women that not longer serve a purpose for Dr. Schuler. I think that the acting is solid across the board. The effects that we get are fine, but I wish they would have shown a bit more. The soundtrack also works aside from playing one song a bit too much for my liking. Overall I’d say this is an above average movie overall. If you like movies from the era, give it a viewing for sure.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10