There are a few names that will immediately command the attention of the underground Horror movie fan, those who appreciate the finer, smaller
things in life and indulge in little low-budget treats that maybe don't have the clout of a big studio or a wide theatrical release to help sell their wares.
Until recently these sorts of movies settled for finding homes on late-night cable; on that far back "off-limits," mama always said, dusty shelf in the
local mom and pop video rental store; or on bootleg VHS tapes back in the days before digital media and the Internet. Names like "Corman" and
"Hammer" populated these outlets and seemed like the Holy Grails of sleazy, small-budget thrills, chills, and nude bodies for the cult fan's viewing
pleasure. Hammer certainly enjoyed a bit more recognition and distribution than did Corman's New World Pictures label, but both -- Corman's heyday
coming along at the tail end of Hammer's reign -- certainly represented off-the-beaten-path sorts of Horror films that were gobbled up by serious genre
aficionados. Now with wide distribution, cheap replication, and a demand for reviving long-forgotten favorites on DVD and, now, in high definition
Blu-ray, films like Hammer's Vampire Circus -- go on, poll any number of casual movie fans and report back the percentage who have actually
heard of this one -- are gloriously and lovingly presented for the masses, this time courtesy of new-to-Blu-ray distributor Synapse films, a
studio that's off to a fine start with this quality high definition release.
Yup, you definitely have a cavity.
In a sleepy nineteenth century European village, an angry mob storms the isolated castle of a local Count, Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), for he has
corrupted a young girl and her mother, and is purported to be a servant of the undead -- a vampire. The count fends of several attackers before
succumbing to numbers, but with his dying breath he vows revenge on the town and asks the woman whom he's seduced, Anna (Domini Blythe), to
contact his cousin Emil (Anthony Corlan) to set into motion a plot for revenge and ensure the count's own revitalization. Fifteen years later, and the
same town is suffering through a terrible plague. The townsfolk believe the plague to be the count's curse, but they're distracted from talks of
plague, curses, and vampire lore when the traveling Circus of Nights arrives in town. Little do the good people know that the circus -- which has
somehow managed to circumvent the quarantine that's cutting off the town -- is actually a front for a troupe of deadly vampires who have arrived to
set Count Mitterhaus' plan into motion. It's all fun and games until local children go missing, promising a bloody finale to either the plagued
townsfolk or the powerful shapeshifting visitors of the undead.
As dopey as it may seem, Vampire Circus works well enough as a bizarrely entertaining fringe type of Horror motion picture. Its plot is
streamlined even if its characters are a bit more difficult to sort out at times, but Director Robert Young has ensured that no matter the quality of
writing or the occasional bout of overacting, Vampire Circus works as a straightforward but off-kilter spook movie that's got just the right
atmosphere, oddity, gore, erotica, and novelty to make for a worthwhile watch. It's a tale of revenge at its center, of a recently-deceased vampire
damning curse on the town of those who killed him, and what better way to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting town than to roll in the circus? It's a
modest circus with but a few animals, a handful of caricatures, and a dangerous mirror that shows more than a reflection. Already fighting a deadly
plague, it would seem the town has no chance, but some sleight-of-hand and a few strokes of good luck just might be enough to overcome not only
bad guys, but in a broader sense, the picture's at-times lavish but ultimately low budget feel and rather uneventful plot.
Vampire Circus is best described itself as a sideshow, a movie that doesn't really mean anything and sets out to do little more than
entertain, but give it some props for originality, at least in the way it cobbles together some well-worn elements and mixes them together in what is
ultimately a rather unique fashion. Vampire Circus lacks teeth -- not vampire teeth, those are seen aplenty, but rather teeth that equate to
visual pizazz or thematic import -- but where it comes up short in purpose it rises to the occasion with a premise that should satisfy moviegoers in
search of a unique take on Vampire lore. The film could stand better character development, more refined acting, and a tighter pace, but as noted
above, it works as a sideshow of sorts, as a movie that might not have those intangibles that tend to flesh out otherwise average pictures into solid
movies but it instead sports a spunk and spirit and novelty that balances out the film's shortcomings, rounding it not into a great or even good film,
curious one that genre fans and fringe movie lovers will definitely want to watch.
Vampire Circus -- Synapse Films' first Blu-ray release -- sports a good but occasionally underwhelming 1080p, 1.66:1-framed transfer that
places small vertical black bars on either side of the 1.78:1 display. Though it's not as crisp or eye-catching as newer films boasting perfect Blu-ray
transfers, Vampire Circus yields a charming, somewhat classic look that might be faded here and rough there, but that nevertheless seems
rather faithful to the source. Blacks tend to be murky and problematic when in competition with foreground details, but general fine object detail -- the
texture of the period clothing, the town's dirt terrain, or various woodland vegetation outside of town -- can be quite good. Colors are slightly faded but
sturdy. A bit of grain is retained over the image, accompanied by some unwelcome but not particularly bothersome pops and scratches on the print,
along with a slim white bar that's occasionally visible alongside the lefthand border of the 1.66 frame. Vampire Circus will never look like a 2010
new release, but Synapse's transfer is solid all around and should satisfy fans upgrading from lesser-quality media.
Vampire Circus arrives on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 lossless soundtrack; also available is a lossless 2.0 music and effects only track. The
presentation is satisfactory but without much vigor or heft. Despite the 2.0 presentation, the track never feels particularly cramped, but it does lack the
greater clarity and seamless spacing of better 5.1 mixes. Atmospherics are handled by the front, but various environmental ambience is nevertheless
modestly but sufficiently implemented, helping to create a few viable but not-quite-immersive sonic segments. Music enjoys fair clarity and is without
much in the way of heft, but again, the presentation is honest and fair considering the source. Dialogue, like most of the track, remains focused up the
middle and never wants for greater clarity. All said this is an adequate track that's a suitable companion for the film.
Vampire Circus debuts on Blu-ray with several quality supplements -- including an insightful and well-made documentary -- as well as the
aforementioned isolated music and effects track.
The Bloodiest Show on Earth: Making Vampire Circus (1080p, 32:39): A new documentary that looks at the history of
Hammer Horror as well as offering a glimpse into the making and history of Vampire Circus. Interview clips are the main attraction here, and
include Hammer Documentarian/Producer Ted Newsom, Director/Critic Joe Dante, Actor David Prowse, Author/Film Historian Philip Nutman, and
Author/Film Historian Tim Lucas.
Gallery of Grotesqueries: A Brief History of Circus Horrors (1080p, 15:07): A fascinating and all-too-short retrospective on
the bizarre, terrific,
and terrifying marriage of circus and Horror.
Visiting the House of Hammer: Britain's Legendary Horror Magazine (1080p, 9:47): Author Philip Nutman looks at the role of Hammer
Horror Comics/Magazine in 1970s Britain.
Vampire Circus exists well outside of the mainstream, but the film is sure to find a broader audience thanks to a timely and welcome Blu-ray
release. It's not the best movie ever made, and it's not even close to being the best Vampire film out there, but for a spark of originality and something
that dares to be different, Vampire Circus proves itself to be a movie worth watching. Besides, it's impossible to go wrong with a movie featuring
a dancing naked woman painted up in teal tiger stripes. Synapse Films' inaugural Blu-ray release is a fine one. The picture and sound quality are sturdy
if not a bit rough around the edges -- the presentation will certainly please fans with the proper expectations -- and the package is rounded out by a nice
little assortment of high quality extra content. Recommended.
Synapse Films boss Don May Jr. has revealed to Fangoria that the company has acquired three films for Blu-ray release in 2011: the vigilante gorefest The Exterminator (James Glickenhaus, 1980); the supermarket slasher Intruder (Scott Spiegel, 1989); and the Dolph ...
Synapse Films is finally entering the Blu-ray arena. The first title from the independent studio, scheduled for December is Vampire Circus, a 1972 horror title from Hammer Film Productions directed by Robert Young and set in a 19th-century village visited by a ...