Hammer fans became excited earlier this year with the announcement that Synapse Films was set to release three of the famed company's films long unavailable in the US. Synapse obtained the rights to Robert Young's 1972 "Vampire Circus," Peter Sasdy's 1971 chiller "Hands of the Ripper" and the third installment in Hammer's Karnstein trilogy "Twins of Evil." All three films are to be released in BluRay/DVD combo packs. I'm delighted to report that the first release in this series will satisfy all Hammer fans on this side of the pond.
Robert Young's "Vampire Circus" is one of the more intelligent and artistically fascinating films released by Hammer. It is a tale of revenge served very cold. The movie begins with a 12-minute pre-credit sequence, which sets up the rest of the film. Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman) has seduced Anna (Domini Blythe) the wife of the local school master. Anna uses her husband's trust to abduct one of his preteen, female students and whisk her away to the Count's castle. What follows is very disturbing. The real-life Moors Murders were not to far in the past when this movie was made. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley's slaughter of a number of young children was seared in to the British psyche in the late 1960s and early 1970s the same way the horrific exploits of Ted Bundy were to those alive in the US at the time. The death of the young child is not that graphic. What chills the viewer's soul is watching actress Domini Blythe as she hungrily awaits her reward while Count Mitterhaus feasts on the child. Ms. Blythe is perfect as the horny, hungry seductee of Satan. As the Count says as he approaches her "On lust feeds another." While the villagers do no arrive in time to save the little girl, the evil Count is staked and his castle burnt to the ground. Anna jerks herself free from the arms of her husband, Professor Albert Mueller (Laurence Payne) and her responsibilities to her own infant daughter and runs back into the burning castle to drag her slain master into the catacombs. The villagers leave the burning castle believing they had forever destroyed the evil within. The dying curse of Count Mitterhaus does ring in their ears: Your children shall die so that I can live again.
15 YEARS LATER:
The town is under quarantine as an unknown plague ravishes the population. No one is allowed to either enter of leave. Armed soldiers guard the frontier. Somehow a circus caravan enters the town. What follows…well, I won't spoil anymore of the plot. I will say that "Vampire Circus" is unique in the genre of vampire films. The emphasis is on sexy and evil. These beasts do not twinkle, would never think of twinkling and would probably kill anyone who twinkled for sport. The cast includes a young Lynne Frederick (long before she became Peter Sellers final wife) as the daughter of Professor Mueller and Count Mitterhaus' love Anna. David Prowse (Darth Vader) is properly and silently menacing as the circus strongman. Anthony Higgins (acting under the name Anthony Corley here) oozes sensuality as Emil, the main vampire threat for the bulk of the movie. Hammer regular Thorley Walters appears as the Burgermeister. Actress Adrienne Corri (the doomed Mrs. Alexander from A Clockwork Orange) is outstanding as the gypsy woman who runs the circus. The way she leads the young to slaughter without a hint of motherly love is chillingly evil.
There are observations any knowledgeable film student could make concerning the influences of other artists, which touched the production of this movie. Rather than try and impress you with such insights, let me instead praise the extra features produced for this incredible BluRay/DVD combo. Synapse Films has come up with a treasure trove of original features for this long awaited release. The cool thing about Synapse's release is the fact that all of the extras appear on both the BluRay and DVD discs! Most companies pack all the cool stuff on the BluRay disc. Not so here.
The set includes the new 30-minute making of documentary "Bloodiest Show on Earth: Making Vampire Circus." Included are interviews with film historians such as Tim Lucas, Phillip Nutman and Ted Newsom as well as American director Joe Dante and actor David Prowse. A shorter featurette entitled "Brief History of Circus Horrors" reviews the history of the circus in horror films starting with the 1918 German classic "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." Yet another featurette puts the spotlight on the British comic book series "The House of Hammer." Other extras include Poster and stills gallery, the original theatrical trailer as well as an isolated music and effects soundtrack.
One last point. Very important because of why we love BluRay. Synapse has done a remarkable job with this transfer. The HD images are among the best you will see. Just beautiful. This is a real treat considering the fact that most US fans have been waiting…well, forever for this classic to be released in the US.
I've been working on building a complete Hammer library for a number of years now. Hunting down out-of-print Anchor Bay discs for example. The three films obtained by Synapse for release in the near future are among the most sought after by Hammer fans like myself. If the future releases of "Hands of the Ripper" and "Twins of Evil" are given the loving treatment which Synapse bestowed on this release, the I'll be in horror heaven. So, probably will you be too!