A gang stick up an armoured truck carrying a cool quarter of a million quid on Tower Bridge. It’s 1966, so you could probably buy most of Essex for that back then. With Inspector Elliott (Leo Genn) of the Yard hot on their trail the gang hide the cash in the winter quarters of Barberini’s Circus. What could possibly go wrong with that?
Well for starters, there’s an insanely jealous knife thrower with a promiscuous girlfriend, a blackmailing dwarf and Gregor, a lion tamer (Christopher Lee) so hideously scarred by one of his own beasts that he has to conceal his face under a black hood. And that’s without mentioning the silver-crested knife found in the back of the decomposing gang member’s corpse, the weird German (a young Klaus Kinski) who asks for work at the circus but won’t give his name and the very naughty person who leaves the lion’s cage door open.
In truth Network’s latest British Film re-release, Circus of Fear (American title Psycho Circus) just about scrapes under the Horror movie fence, it’s really more of a crime thriller. The film is an Anglo-German production, hence the casting of a number of European actors like Kinski and films from the German krimi (crime) genre were often marketed to the US TV networks as horrors back in the 1960s.
For me, Circus of Fear is a fun movie for a wet Sunday afternoon rather than a post pub Friday. As 1960s crime capers go it’s not a bad film, there is some nice camera work and enough red herrings to keep you guessing as to who the murderer is up to the end, even if it is a little short on shocks. There’s also a bit of a nostalgia for those of us who were dragged up in the 1960s with Wolseley Police cars, Old Scotland Yard and London streets without any traffic. The footage of London from the Thames before the development of Docklands is quite interesting too.
DVD extras include: both long and short cuts of the film, trailers, image gallery an alternative German ending and a sadly mute Italian freakout trailer.
Now I find circuses, along with fairgrounds to be Creepsville with a capital ‘C’ and the one in Circus of Fear was full of dodgy characters, although I’d argue that the interior design of the caravans was often far more malicious than that of the human cast.
Another circus shocker is: Circus of Horrors (1959). Anton Diffring (for once not being the token real German in a WW2 prison camp drama) plays the plastic surgeon who populates a circus with his own patients. Things don’t end well.
Review by Simon Ball
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