By 1972, everything that could really be said or done with a vampire had been and most of it by Hammer Studios. So with a lack of innovation and without rewriting the book, what else was there to do but just make an entertaining film that features them in a different situation than the norm, something that had never been seen before or even since. Thus it is that we find this picture, Vampire Circus, that places their vampires in what else, but a circus. It definitely had the potential to be terrible, the name alone does not inspire a lot of confidence though it admittedly makes you quite curious to see this film, so it is good to say that it turned out to be a fantastic movie and one of the better pictures to feature the legendary creatures as well.
The film takes place in Austria where the local children of the village are going missing. The villagers have an idea of what is happening and up until now, fright has been holding them back from doing anything and yet soon enough, they decide to break into the Count’s castle and confront him about it. It seems Count Mitterhaus is a vampire and he has been feeding on the children. After admitting such a thing, the villagers kill the Count, but not before he has cursed them and tasked his lover Anna with finding his cousin and the Circus of Night so that they might carry out his vengeance.
Though the film has a traditional start to it, one that has been seen many times before, once the circus arrives in town, things really start to liven up. Thematically, the movie is no different than any other vampire film that Hammer had put out, but seeing the movie execute them through the setting of a circus is fairly novel and a lot of fun. One of the more intriguing aspects of this picture is that writers George Baxt, Wilbur Stark and Judson Kinberg have at least one of the vampires, Emil as played by Anthony Higgins, being able to transform into a panther. Up until this point, most films only have the vampire doing their usual transformations into either fog, rats, bats or even wolves. Seeing Emil go from cat to man and back was highly compelling and it made you wonder about all of the other animals in the film as well. Even more fascinating though was seeing how effective the circus was at being able to be the perfect cover for the creatures. Nobody questioned how it was that any of these performers could do what they could do. Even though it seemed more like magic than anything else, the villagers remained captivated instead of curious even when the transformations from man to animal took place before their very eyes.
While the film is quite stylish with its colourful atmosphere and exotic animals, it is also very suspenseful as you never quite know when these vampires are going to strike or what they are going to do. It is a very dark film too, one that sees these creatures prey upon children not only for food but for revenge upon the townspeople. That too is something that is rarely seen in a vampire film as more often than not, women are the usual victim of choice. The most memorable bit in the movie comes early on when the circus arrives and the townsfolk are treated to a dance by a woman painted as a tiger. It is utterly commanding and you find your eyes on her the entire time and not only because of the strange beauty she represents but because the film, even in moments like this, keeps the tension and the suspense running, always keeping you on the edge of your seat.
The only slight gaff to the film was the fact that it took Emil fifteen years to reach the village and mete out his wrath. Though time means little to a vampire, he must have been clear across the world for it to have taken so long. In all though, Vampire Circus is one of Hammer’s better vampire films. It still features action, drama, gorgeous women, violence, nudity and all that thick, Hammer blood, but it also adds some excitement by doing something kind of new with the genre and that is always a good thing.