Circus of Horrors is a fairly apt title as within said Big Top there are indeed quite a few horrors that take place and all of them at the behest of the man who runs the show. He is a cunning individual, a jealous man and a petty dictator who thinks all must obey in case his secret ever got out and as the movie runs down to its inevitable conclusion, he becomes more desperate and more willing to get rid of those who stand in his way.
Making this circus as horrific as it is all comes down to Dr. Schüler as played by Anton Diffring, a man who plays the villain to perfection as evidenced by his entire film career. Casting him was a bit of genius on the part of the makers of this film as the man definitely has enough talent to take the lead and run with it while the supporting cast who are comprised of Donald Pleasance, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur, Jane Hylton and Kenneth Griffith do it justice as well. Most who inhabit this carnival either worship Schüler or cower in fear of him, such is his power over others. All of this is because of who Schüler really is, a doctor in hiding who is wanted by the police and who comes into an opportunity with this circus which essentially lands at his feet, to practice his craft in secret before he can finally reveal himself to the world on his own terms, something that will never happen.
For some, the film might not be as exciting as they would like as it is a slow burn, a very unassuming little picture that takes its time in getting to where it is going but one that lays out a trail of bread crumbs, just enough for viewer’s curiosity to latch onto so they might follow along. Diffring is magnetic as Dr. Schüler and one knows that he is up to something, considering the opening of the picture where he is racing for his life and the fact that he lets a man die right in front of him when he was able to prevent it. It is not knowing what he has planned that keeps the audience hooked and the fact that if he is willing to essentially commit one murder, one has to wonder how many more will follow. So while some might think it slowly-paced, a more accurate description would be it is deliberately paced and the horror within builds slowly but surely, until it is apparent to anyone that looks closely enough just what is going on at this circus behind the scenes.
If there were any flaws, the most glaring would be the fact that nobody noticed how many deaths occurred over such a short period of time in this circus and alerted the authorities though it is possible that due to the show touring all over the place, it was simply not picked up on by the general public. That being said, one would also think that the women in the circus would talk, warning any newcomers to stay away from Schüler if they valued their lives even should he have operated on their faces and made them beautiful again. One also has to take into account that there was very little blood and as far as bodies go, few of them. While this might not have been the most visceral of horror movies, it would have been nice to see a little more.
Circus of Horrors would, at the end of the day, provide a nice distraction to the everyday even if it was not the most frightening of pictures and worth it simply for the performance of Diffring alone.
3 out of 5