Friday, October 01, 2010

Big Top Bloodsuckers

Vampire Circus (1972, directed by Robert Young), is a curio from Hammer Studios' decadent period. The basic story is familiar, in which a vampire, this time one Count Mitterhaus curses the town people who destroy him. Fifteen years later, the plague has come to their town, along with a strange circus filled with performers with strange powers. Given the title of the movie, it's not hard to figure out what's behind the circus. During this period, Hammer played fast and loose with the rules of vampirism and occasionally seemed to be making things up as they went. This film is an avatar of this trend. Hammer was also doing land office business in T&A at this time, and there's a TON of skin in this movie.

The opening of the movie distills Hammer's essential conservatism. This sequence caters to the fear of the cuckold. The rest of the movie is a direct threat to the traditional family. There's an undercurrent of homophobia, too, in the depiction of the male vampires, who are vaguely effeminate. Once again, it's upright moral rectitude that stands against evil. Once again, women are the weak link, weaker than men. Pretty stock stuff, but the film manages to have a dramatically different feel than other Hammer vampire movies. It certainly looks more expensive than Hammer's films from this period usually did, but it's more than that.

This has a wonderful touch of strange, inspired in equal parts by The Circus of Dr. Lao and Something Wicked This Way Comes. It synthesizes this with a touch of European surrealism. There's a wonderful shot of bats on the wing who transform into circus acrobats. This makes creative use of mirrors, too, including a fun piece of "through the looking glass" that makes use of the vampire's lack of a reflection. There's also a nice juxtaposition between a cart full of corpses and the arriving wagons full of circus Gypsies. And clowns are always reliable for a shudder or two. The gore in this movie is more explicit than usual for Hammer, too. Some of it is worthy of the Eye-talians, though this film doesn't leer at it the way, say, Rugero Deodata might. Some of it's downright goofy, too, including a decapitation by crossbow string.

The more Hammer movies I see, the more I think that vampires are the dumbest mythical creatures in the world. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro once noted that if vampires acted like Hammer's Dracula, they'd attract every would-be Van Helsing for miles around in no time at all. How these creatures live to be hundreds of years old is a mystery. The vampires in Vampire Circus scream "vampire" from a hundred yards away. When a gypsy wagon comes toy your town during a plague, you know something is up with them. And, really, when two of them follow one of their victims into a chapel, how can they be surprised that there's a big-ass cross there? Sheesh. Still, this is a nice change of pace for Hammer, one that deserves to be better-known.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 1

First Time Viewings: 1


suspiria10 said...

I really need to check this one out.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Heya, Dan. It's on Netflix instant right now. I think Synapse is putting it out on Blu this month.