Vampire Circus (1972)
Directed by Robert Young

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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In the early Nineteenth Century, a German village is quarantined because of a plague, which, some of the locals fear, may be the result of the curse of a vampire they had killed years before. These suspicions quickly increase when, after a circus troupe manages to get past the guards watching the town, a number of people die from causes other than sickness.

While not without a number a of serious flaws, Robert Young's Vampire Circus is a peculiar and entertaining work.

The movie is, it must be admitted, burdened by the same faults that can be found in many other British horror films of its time. The production values are often low. Some of the acting is amateurish, and many of the clichés of the genre are repeated, such as, for example, the inclusion of a scientific sceptic who eventually comes to believe in the reality of the supernatural.

Despite such weaknesses, Vampire Circus is always engaging. The story is well paced and consistently quirky, and the film's numerous oddities imbue it with an intoxicating, carnivalesque feverishness. Over the course of the movie, the director reveals to the viewer magical, shape shifting acrobatic performances, a hall of distorting mirrors, a vampire capable of transforming into a panther, a strong man, lusty village girls, murders, a disfiguring plague, and more. Not only is each of these elements fascinating by itself, but, as each intensifies the pleasure the others give, together they infuse the movie with a delirious sense of excitement.

What is more, the diversity of incidents portrayed enables many of the film's numerous characters to take center stage for at least a scene or two, although never at the expense of narrative consistency. The major and minor characters and central and ancillary scenes are, in fact, woven together with real skill and allow the viewer to enjoy a multiplicity of experiences within the unity of a single story. Even the different emotions aroused by the film are well handled. There are moments of wonder when members of the circus troupe perform, moments of terror when the vampires appear, moments of compassion and sadness when family members are lost, either by death or betrayal, and moments of eroticism and passion as well. Despite such dramatic changes in sentiment, the director manages to integrate them all into a coherent whole.

Vampire Circus is a wonderfully entertaining movie. It is flawed, being burdened with many of the defects of other horror films of its time, but it is so creative and peculiar that it offers far more than any of those other films do, transcending its genre to become a valuable work of art.

Review by Keith Allen

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