DVD
Circus of Horrors (1960)

Starring: Anton Riffring, Erika Remberg and Yvonne Monlaur
Optimum Classic
RRP: 9.99
OPTD0847
Certificate: 15
Available 25 June 2007


Dr Rossiter, a disgraced plastic surgeon, flees England with a couple of associates and searches for a low-key place where he can continue his work under the new identity of Doctor Schuler. He buys his way into a run-down circus in France, and builds it up by finding unknown and scarred women and making them beautiful again. The women are trained to become star attractions in the circus, but when any decide to leave they meet with a terrible accident. Now the successful circus is visiting England, and Scotland Yard's Inspector Ames is waiting...

I don't know how the cinematic release of this film was received back in 1960 but I can't imagine its first UK DVD distribution impressing too many people today. There are far too many circus acts the viewer is obliged to follow with no noticeable progress to the plot. In other words, it just seems like padding.

There's little or no horror on show here; in fact, tension (which should be built) is conspicuous by its complete absence. Even the interpersonal conflicts appear to carry little weight. There are numerous shots of the doctor taunting or being violent to a man in an obvious gorilla suit.

I know that Circus of Horrors catered for a different generation of cinema-goers, but surely one of the first rules of film-making is to not look down to your audience. Don't treat people like idiots; one reference to the fact the doctor is going to get his just desserts at the hands of the unconvincing gorilla is surely enough.

They say we live in enlightened times. Perhaps, but certainly the media of that era depicted violence or horror in more simple terms. You were either good or bad, with no shades of grey or specific reasons for your actions. That's why the uniformed police are nearly always Cockneys and the plain clothes police middle-class or higher. Inspector Ames (played by Conrad Phillips) is a gentleman investigator who is so competent at his job that his chief accepts practically anything he says or does. I can't imagine anybody being able to relate to these characters today.

It's nice to see a very young-looking Donald Pleasence in the film, although he plays a small role. I got the feeling that if he had played the part of Doctor Rossiter he would have brought shed-loads of class to an otherwise drab movie.

Ty Power

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