VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972)
D. Robert Young
Blu Ray/ DVD Combo Pack
This Hammer production was one of the most sought after titles on DVD for many years. With fans making due with imported versions that looked okay, or bootlegs that were soft, or sometimes were missing footage. Many of us have memories of catching this one on the late late show on TV or the butchered American release print that removed literally all of the sexual content and a good bit of the blood-shed as well. Leaving behind a frustrating movie that felt as empty of the townsfolk these vampires continued to leave behind.
So for the dudes at Synapse to finally put out a serious version of the movie is fantastic news for all Hammer horror fans. For it to be Synapse flagship Blu Ray title is even better news. Everyone can rest assured on both counts, the movie has NEVER looked better and this blu is an outstanding ship to be sailed into those waters for a company that many of us love dearly and want to see succeed.
The movie opens with a rather bold and intense sequence (cut to shit in the American release prints) of a very young girl, maybe ten or eleven, being led into one of those beautiful gothic castles so famous in these movies. Inside she meets Count Mitterhaus a rather fey looking but deeply seductive and vicious vampire in the traditional Hammer style. Non-traditionally he seduces and kills the little girl while one of his female minions watches and clearly becomes turned on by the act. Then they strip down and get to getting busy while the townsfolk outside gather to burn him out. A huge bloodbath ensues, especially nasty and violent for a Hammer movie and Mitterhaus is dispatched but not before he swears a blood oath on the heads of all the men of the village that he will see all their children suffer.
Flash forward fifteen years and those men are now paranoid. There seems to be an outbreak of some unnamed disease in the surrounding towns and they are having to take extreme measures to protect themselves. They fear this could be the curse coming home to roost. But that night the circus arrives in down. A fascinating, sensual and downright weird gypsy circus with exotic animals and interpretive dance. The town flocks to see them, but when the town’s Burgermeister is led into the fun house and doesn’t make it out alive it is clear they are there for revenge.
From here it is pretty classic horror potboiler stuff, but with a nasty edge as the movie has no qualms about killing off kids, old people animals you name it. Seems to me that at this point Hammer was having to compete with movies like NIGHT OF THE LIVNG DEAD or other gore movies in the market place so they were upping the ante and had no compunctions about mixing their older more staid feel with the balls out new horror of the time. Unfortunately you occasionally get a touch of that era psychedelia and London Mod feel getting tossed about too (mostly Mitterhaus and his whole look and style) so with that the movie at times feels a little off kilter and out of touch with the story it is telling. But more often than not it is solid and mean, delivering the chills it promises.
Synapse has taken some heat in collectors circles for releasing a combo pack but business wise it makes the most sense. For only a few dollars more the person buying the disc gets a copy on the other format. The complaints are all over the place but at the end of the day really all the matters is the movie is out on bother formats in an affordable way. And boy does it look fantastic.
Don May Jr. at Synapse has been at the forefront of remastering cult movies for the home video market since the laserdisc days and his expertise has really shined since the Blu Ray explosion. Though Synapse didn’t realize it, one of the best looking BR discs on the market is one he worked on extensively THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. That disc is simply breathtaking. While VAMPIRE CIRCUS may not be the show piece that CHAINSAW is, it is without a doubt a huge crown jewel in the hat of Synapse Ent. Colors are crisp, clean and vibrant, with accurate flesh-tones and blood that pops off the screen. Blacks have true depth with no signs of artifacting or milkiness that older prints of this movie has had. I only noticed a slight moment of print damage right when the famous “animal dance” scene is about to start. But it is so slight you’d have to be looking for it. Just a few light scratches. Otherwise it is beautiful.
The DVD and Blu Ray have the same features and extras, so no matter which you are buying the package for you are getting the same materials. Just the Blu is going to be that much more of a boost in quality.
If you are a Hammer horror fan, Vampire fan or just like to support our important indie companies this is a no brainer release. Grab it now!
Review © Andy Copp