Circus of Fear, or Psycho-Circus, begins ambitiously enough with a daring robbery on Tower Bridge and from there, it somewhat slows down once the circus comes into play. It also marks one of the strangest performances to come from Christopher Lee as he wears a mask for the bulk of the film, hiding his features from the audience, yet all part of the ongoing plot. Also starring in a very understated and creepy performance is Klaus Kinski who always commands the screen when he is upon it and together with Lee, would be two of the names that would draw the audience in and keep them watching.
While there are elements of horror within, the movie is not so much a horror film but a full-fledged mystery, a whodunnit that keeps viewers guessing until the very end. There is no shortage of suspects when it comes to the murders, many of them having the means and opportunity to do away with the victims and more than a few of them with a motive to boot. Lee’s character Gregor is among those, a man who always wears a hood due to his face being disfigured, but as the film rolls on, there is a mystery unto itself there too, something hidden other than just a disfigurement. Kinski’s character, though he says little, is obviously after the money that went missing from the heist, money that is somewhere within the circus and as he steals about, it is hard not to suspect the man of doing away with all the obstacles in his path. Additionally there is the man of diminutive stature, the knife-thrower who is simply too obvious what with everyone being killed by knives, the ringmaster and more. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and written by Harry Alan Towers, based upon a work by Edgar Wallace, the film never lacks for suspense despite its slower pace during the second act, but it more than makes up for it in the performances of its cast.
As Moxey paints this mystery, he does so with some very interesting camera angles, playing it fast and loose which gives the movie, at least the first act of the film, a bit of a frenetic pace during the robbery. Though he does settle in during the last bit, he still does a great job of keeping things interesting and coupled with the score by Johnny Douglas, it makes for great viewing. If there is one complaint to be had, it is not utilising Lee as much as they could have, but it worked nonetheless as the picture kept that air of mysteriousness around Lee’s character, keeping the audience guessing as to whether he was the culprit or not.
Though there might have been a couple of flaws throughout, Circus of Fear remains a decent watch but not something one would ever need to revisit after the first time.
3.5 out of 5