CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960) – The Dungeon Review!
I’ve said it before and I will say it again; I am a huge sucker for a horror film with a carnival or circus theme! In Circus of Horrors a circus is merely a front for the demented Dr. Schuler. Dr. Schuler is a plastic surgeon and along with his two assistants is forced to flee when one of his surgeries goes horribly wrong. He meets a badly scarred child and he convinces her father who owns a broken down circus to let him operate on her. The child’s surgery is a success and in appreciation her father agrees to a partnership with Dr. Schuler. Immediately after their handshake the father has a drunken accident and Dr. Schuler becomes the sole owner. Schuler of course has a diabolical plan for the circus. All the performers will be badly scarred criminals whom he will operate on and make beautiful. If necessary he can blackmail the performers into staying by threatening to expose their criminal records. I realize this seems like a lot of information but we learn all this before we even get to the circus section which makes up the majority of the runtime. They stuff a lot of information in this introduction! When we get to the circus we just jump in head first.
We move ten years into the future and Dr. Schuler has clearly made the circus a huge success. But the circus Dr. Schuler dubbed “the circus of beauty” is now being dubbed by the media as the “jinx circus” on account of the number of “unfortunate accidents”. Circus of Horrors has all the familiar trappings one would expect; high-wire acts, acrobats, knife throwers, lion tamers, clowns. Circus of Horrors uses these accoutrements to their full effectiveness. I am going to give you a wee spoiler and tell you that the scarred girls father gets mauled to death by a bear. This bear scene is unintentionally hilarious! The death scenes otherwise are not graphic but are quite suspenseful and well-executed. I don’t want to spoil any more, but let’s just say the deaths have a circus theme. The performers scars pre-surgery are impressive and very believable. The excellent opening sequence where a hysterical woman smashes all the mirrors in her bedroom reveals to us the horror caused by Dr. Schuler. It’s not my fault baby; you shouldn’t have taken those bandages off so early. Dr. Schuler apologizes for nothing!
Dr. Schuler is a heartless, self-absorbed asswad that will stop at nothing in the name of self-preservation. His work means everything in that obsessive way that is required for any good mad movie scientist or doctor. He isn’t over-the-top with his antics playing it subdued but single-mindedly intense. Anton Diffring is perfect as the arrogant Dr. Schuler. He also completely looks the part. A young Donald Pleasance makes a brief appearance early in the film as the father of the scarred child. Pleasance is featured in the unfortunate bear scene but he is great just the same. His daughter Nicole grows up to be a beautiful woman with an equestrian act. Nicole is played by the lovely Yvonne Monlaur who is sweet and likable. Dr. Schuler’s assistant Martin is a bit of a sad sack. Martin assists in Schuler’s surgeries and is at the doctor’s beck and call for any number of other requests. Kenneth Griffith is decent enough in the role, and while I would not exactly say you feel sorry for the character there is the glimmer of hope that he will eventually grow a set. Martin’s sister Angela also assists in Dr. Schuler’s surgeries and also happens to be in love with Schuler. It is a mystery to me what she sees in this jerk. Angela is complicit in Dr. Schuler’s crimes but still manages to garner some sympathy. My favorite female character in the film is definitely the spicy and spirited Elissa Caro. Elissa is the show’s acrobat who ends her act each night with a noose around her neck as she frantically spins several dozen feet above the ground. Erika Remberg is top-notch as the confident Elissa Caro and it is a lot of fun seeing her give Dr. Schuler hell! Finally we have Inspector Arthur Ames. The circus is garnering some unwanted attention with its “accidents” and Inspector Ames is on the case. He is really “on”. The inspector is a real ladies man type who seduces the lovely performers for the answers he requires. Conrad Phillips who plays Inspector Ames is likable enough and he gets to have some fun whilst solving the crime.
Circus of Horrors’ story is rather on the crazy side. It really is a needlessly complicated plan this Dr. Schuler has concocted. The guy is a plastic surgeon and he is going to start a circus, find a bunch of criminals who will agree to be operated on, train them to be circus performers and oversee operations of said circus? Bloody hell that Dr. Schuler sure is ambitious! Great sets, lovely costumes, lush colors, a steady pace, strong performances and some well-executed moments of suspense make Circus of Horrors a very entertaining watch. Recommended!
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Sidney Hayers
Starring: Anton Diffring, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur, Donald Pleasence, Jane Hylton, Kenneth Griffith, Conrad Phillips, Jack Gwillim, Vanda Hudson, Yvonne Romain, Colette Wilde