A little girl is brutally slain by a vampire in a tiny 19th century Austrian village. Seeking revenge, the townspeople invade the foreboding castle of Count Mitterhaus and kill him for the crime. As the Count dies, he curses the villagers and vows that their children will all die so that he may someday return to life. Fifteen years later, as the village is ravaged by the plague, a traveling circus comes to town and distracts the villagers from their current hardships. Little do they know that their troubles are only beginning! The circus is actually a troupe of shape-shifting vampires and, as the local children start disappearing, they realize the prophecy of the long dead Count is coming true.
I lost my cool after watching “Vampire Circus”. I had to sit down to do my review and ran in to a problem. A major problem that eventually sent me into a rage. My computer took a dump on me (not literally) and I wasn’t prepared for it. After being without a computer for several days, my tax return appeared and now I am back up and running. After getting over the fact I am once again broke, I am able to now sit down and hammer this thing out. As it so happens, “Vampire Circus” is a production from the legendary UK based Hammer Films. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the films Hammer has unleashed. Or I at least have yet to find one that has any real effect on me. I have read into Hammer’s past and viewed several films, they just weren’t for me. I do however appreciate what they once accomplished in the genre and that alone is reason to at least give these classic films a chance. “Vampire Circus” follows the gothic vampire formula that they are known for and I found the film fun and now officially the first Hammer production I enjoyed.
The film opens when Anna (Domini Blythe) is seen luring a young girl into the castle of Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), a bloodsucker that strengthens himself by feeding on the youth of small villages. In the woods surrounding the village, there is a lynch mob ready to wipe out the evil that is haunting them. Their leader, Professor Mueller (Laurence Payne) is also married to the young woman who has now pledged her allegiance to the vampire. Mueller and his mob battle the vamp only to find that they are too late. They do away with Mitterhaus, just not before he curses them all. Fifteen years later, their village suffers from the plague and most believe it is a result of the curse. Then along comes the Circus of Nights with an eclectic crew of misfits that include the Gypsy girl (Adrienne Corri), the little clown Michael (Skip Martin), and the panther man (Anthony Higgins). They wow the locals with their act and in the meantime are stealing the town’s youth to feed on and to help resurrect the fallen Count Mitterhaus.
Though the film mostly takes place in a few locations, the castle, the circus lot, a few homes, the films tight budget tends to be obvious, and the effects were a product of its time. The film was rather well cast and the over the top performances work well. The one thing that stood out for me was the fact that, being a vampire film, it didn’t follow the conventions most of us are used too. Of course the vamps hiss when baring their fangs, but they also spend much time in the sun as well as being able to shape shift into wild animals. There is also some interesting characters here, most notably the twin vampires who share each others pain. Another interesting plot point is the Mirror of Life, where people are supposedly given a look into the future only to find themselves falling victim and their blood being poured onto the Count. I’m surprised I haven’t seen other filmmakers paying homage to these ideas in other films.
Of note to Hammer Film fans, on December 14, 2010, Synapse Films released “Vampire Circus” in a Blu-ray DVD combo pack. The film is re-mastered in 1080p for the first time with a plethora of special features that include an all new documentary on the film, Gallery of Grotesqueries: A Brief History of Circus Horrors, Visiting the House of Hammer magazine retrospective, “Vampire Circus” interactive comic book, Poster and Stills gallery, and original theatrical trailer. Not a bad package and the prices I have seen from various online retailers range from $20-$27, so the price is looking pretty good too. “Vampire Circus” works and is well deserving the supreme disc treatment.