Barbarini's Circus, come for the fun, stay for the...MURDER!
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 04/20/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Circus of Fear (1966), aka Circus of Terror (1966), aka Psycho Circus (1967), as it was known in the United States, is based on a novel by prolific writer Edgar Wallace, who, among other works, also wrote the novel that became the basis for the film King Kong (1933). Circus of Fear, directed by John Moxley, probably most remembered for his work on television, The Avengers, The Saint, Mission Impossible, Mannix, Hawaii Five-O, The Night Stalker, any much more, was also responsible for the film Horror Hotel (1960).
The film takes place in England, and starts out with the robbery of an armored car. Things are going smoothly, until one of the guards sees an opportunity to escape, and gets shot by the other guard. Ahhh...an inside job. Anyway, the men make a unique escape, and meet up later in a hidden location. A call to the anonymous mastermind of the heist, who none of the actual robbers have ever met, provides specific instructions with regards to the inside man and the rest of the gang. The inside man is told to take the money to a remote location, and the others leave, with the idea that they will get their shares later, but soon get caught by the police through an anonymous tip, as the inside man reaches the rendezvous, near the winter quarters of a local circus, only to meet with an untimely end. The money is taken, and the mystery begins to unfold. As the police continue their investigation, bank notes begin appearing in the area of the circus' winter quarters, and Inspector Elliot (Leo Gurn) suspects the person or persons involved in the theft may be hiding out at the circus. We soon meet various performers of the circus, which sets up a whole load of red herrings, as the performers are presented as a volatile lot, prone to acting like overgrown children. Among the performers is Gregor (Christopher Lee), the lion tamer who always wears a mask to conceal his horrible disfigurement due to a supposed accident involving a rambunctious kitty. The inside man's body is discovered on the grounds of the circus, and a performer is also kakked shortly thereafter, reinforcing Inspector Elliot's suspicions with regards to the killer and his/her connection to the circus. More and more clues (most useless) are thrown our way as histories are revealed, and the plot gets fairly convoluted. Klaus Kinski is listed as an actor in the film, but his role is limited as an original heist man who followed the money to the circus. I would say he has about five minutes of total screen time, and absolutely no development for his character is presented, making his role essentially useless. So who is the mastermind? Who is responsible for murdering various individuals throughout the film? What secret does Gregor hide behind his mask?
As others have stated, this would appear to be a horror movie on first glance, but it isn't. It's really a somewhat bloated mystery/drama, presenting, rather clumsily, a number of suspects. The way motives were thrown around so obviously will make you groan, and when you finally do discover the identity of the mastermind behind the crimes and his reasoning, you may be disappointed. There was little, if anything, that would have drawn the viewer to pick that individual as the criminal, other than that's how is was written in the script. I do like Christopher Lee a lot, but his role here seems to be more of the producers using the star power of his name more than anything else to sell the movie. Leo Genn provides a great performance as the harassed by his supervisor inspector, more or less riding out the plot threads until they produce the culprit. He does piece together the puzzle near the end, but given the information we had offered by the film, I am still unsure how he came to the conclusions he did, making the whole `mystery' element a little awkward and clunky. The film started out strong, but ended with a bit of a sputter for me. And I have to say, I kinda felt sorry for the animals shown, the lions and elephants, as they all looked rather tired and sickly, as is often the case of circuses and zoos, despite even the most well-meaning efforts to care for the animals.
Blue Underground provides a really nice looking wide screen print here, along with a number of special features, including a commentary track by director John Moxley, American and U.K. trailers for the film, poster, press book and still galleries for the film, and very detailed talent bios of actors Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski. The film here runs 91 minutes, compared to a meager 65 minutes on a previous VHS copy I saw, suggesting that maybe this is a truly restored version. In the end, I would say this is a three star release of a two star film. By the way, I really loved the tagline for this film, `The most horrifying syndicate of evil in history!' A syndicate, to me, at least, implies more than just one person...but okay, let's go along...'The most horrifying...in history'? Oh bruther...talk about `selling it'.
PRETTY GOOD MYSTERY THRILLER.....
Mark Norvell | HOUSTON | 10/01/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was hugely disappointed that this wasn't at all what I hoped it was...that being a Euro-shocker along the lines of "Circus of Horrors". What I found instead is an OK mystery based on a novel by Edgar Wallace that's fairly engrossing with some neat surprises. After an admittedly good opening about an armored car heist, the story shifts to Barbarini's Circus which has an atmosphere rife with tension: assumed identities, jealous romance, a dangerous lioness named Sheba, her hooded tamer Gregor (Christopher Lee), a shifty knife thrower and a blackmailing dwarf named Mr.Big (Skip Martin). The stolen money lands in the circus and an escaped member of the heist is murdered by...a knife thrower. Scotland Yard is soon on the circus grounds and there are red herrings galore. The heist member's body is found and Mario the knife thrower's beautiful assistant Gina (luscious Margaret Lee), who knows something, is also killed by...a knife thrower. The killer is never revealed until the end. To be honest, despite my initial disappointment, this is a colorful, beautifully photographed, well acted (if a tad overplotted) diversion that should please hardcore mystery fans. The music score is moody Euro-jazz flavored and blares at key moments which I found kind've fun. It's not a horror film at all. Instead, it's laced with bizarre atmosphere and genuine intrigue that kept me guessing right up to the end. I did not guess the killer's identity. Good supporting cast with Suzy Kendall as Gregor's "niece", Anthony Newlands as Barbarini, Klaus Kinski as a mystery drifter connected to the heist, Leo Genn as the ringmaster-cum-hero and especially Skip Martin as the nasty Mr.Big. The DVD from Blue Underground is superb in quality. I don't know why this was cut so severely when making the rounds as "Psycho-Circus". There's no gore or nudity. Just solid, well made storytelling. The action shifts between Scotland Yard and the circus and is rather tame...yet it sustains your interest. I have to recommend it as a pretty good mystery for fans of the genre and for fans of good British thrillers. But, keep in mind that "Circus of Fear" is NOT a horror film. I hope it doesn't disappoint too many people because it IS rather good and deserves to be seen and appreciated for what it really is...a really decent mystery-thriller."
Dracula Meets Mr. Big.
Robert S. Clay Jr. | St. Louis, MO., USA | 11/21/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Christopher Lee must have been very busy back in the '60s. He was taking every movie role in sight. Perhaps that explains why one of Hammer's major stars surfaced in this minor thriller. To set the record straight, despite an attempt to package this flick as a horror film, it's really a crime melodrama that begins well but falters along the way. A diabolic super criminal takes refuge with a British circus after masterminding an armored car robbery. It gets better. Lee plays the hooded lion-tamer/knife thrower that leads the suspect list. If we follow the logic, the filmmaker wanted a popular actor such as Lee just so he could hide his face behind a hood for much of the film. Go figure. The diminutive Skip Martin is great as Mr. Big, the small chap with a big attitude. Distinguished actor Leo Genn must have been amused by his role as a police detective. He keeps looking bemused and fatuous even after being chewed out by his boss. The cadaverous Klaus Kinski is around just long enough to suffer a stabbing pain. There is also the usual bevy of circus girls in their revealing costumes. As all circus pictures, the film uses screen time of real circus performers doing their acts. For American viewers, the European backgrounds may add a certain charm. The flick takes itself too seriously to be enjoyed as camp. As a straightforward thriller, it's harmless fun. Depending on which edition you consider, remember that a budget priced DVD is better than a cheap VHS tape, but just barely. Beware chopped up edited editions! ;-)"