Fascinating Horror Double Featuring Macabre Settings
Simon Davis | 11/14/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In their double feature DVD release of "Circus of Horrors/Theatre of Death", Anchor Bay have managed to rescue two highly interesting 1960's horror efforts from the oblivion of late night television to which they had been for far too long consigned. Both features because of their unique subject matter and settings make a great pair and have been given a superb release with beautifully restored prints and interesting extras. I've been long fascinated by both these British films from the 1960's mainly because of the macabre settings that both take place in; for "Circus of Horrors", it being a popular circus which hides many ugly secrets and for "Theatre of Death", a bizzare theatre specialising in productions of a Grand Guginol nature involving death,torture and sadism. Both compliment each other perfectly and boast fine casts, surprisingly high production values and interestingly complex characters that in both movies are not what they first seem to be. My personal favourite of the two is the less well known second feature "Theatre of Death", starring a superb Christopher Lee, in an unusual tale set in a fog bound Paris that is being terrorised by a series of mysterious vampire-like killings. Because of it's similiar sounding title this film is often confused with the later Vincent Price effort "Theater of Blood"; a delightfully tongue in cheek horror effort from 1973.
The first film is "Circus of Horrors".
It begins in 1947 and finds plastic surgeon Dr. Rossiter (Anton Diffring), fleeing a botched operation on Evelyn Morley (Colette Wilde). With his two reluctant off siders Angela (Jane Hylton) and her brother Martin (Kenneth Griffith), Rossiter flees to france and becomes part of a circus in order to escape detection. Very soon the calculating Dr. Rossiter now calling himself "Dr. Bernard Shueler", takes over the circus by killing the circus owner Vanet, (Donald Pleasance), and over a ten year period makes the circus one of the best in the world. He finds his circus performers by operating on badly scarred young women from shady backgrounds who he then forces to work as performers. However when the women want to leave the circus Schueler arranges for a series of "accidents", to occur which will stop the women from telling the truth about the circus and the women meet a variety of grisly fates that look like circus mishaps. However the deranged doctor's plans come unraveled when Scotland Yard become curious about the large number of supposed "accidents', that occur at the circus and the net tightens around "Dr. Schueler". A chance meeting at a charity function where the doctor's first victim Evelyn Morley recognises him and reveals his true identity sets the police closing in on him. However in a final confrontation involving aspeeding car Evelyn finally has her revenge on the man who ruined her life and was responsible for the death of so many other innocent women.
Anton Diffring, long used to playing movie villians has a field day in the role of the brilliant but deranged Dr.Rossiter/Shueler and his fiendish good looks serve the character beautifully mixing charm with a bubbling ruthlessness always ready to explode. Despite the setting being France, with the exception of actress Yvonne Monlaur playing the innocent Nicole the rest of the film has a strong English feel and atmosphere to it. "Circus of Horrors", expertly incorporated real live circus footage into the proceedings and the cast fit well into the live action sequences taking place in the circus ring. The film's limited budget is most obvious in the various attacks by such animals as a bear and a gorilla which in their contact with the individuals are very obviously men in fur suits. That aside however it is a beautiful looking colour production and although we as the audience always know who the villian of the piece is the various circus mishaps that occur create a great deal of tension in the story making "Circus of Horrors", an excellent little thriller to keep your attention.
The second film is "Theatre of Death".
This film is just as much detective story as a horror tale and has as it's setting a most unusual theatre appopiately titled the "Theatre of Death" that is home to various Grand Guginol productions put on by a small and very unusual theatre troupe in Paris. The productions the group stage are always of a grisly nature and feature torture, executions and bloody horror. The troupe is controlled by the arrogant and at times quite sadistic Philippe Darvas (Christopher Lee), who readily uses intimidation and humiliation of his cast members to get the desired efects for his productions. When Paris is rocked by a series of terrifying vampire-like murders that see the victims drained of all their blood through puncture holes in their neck, the suspicion falls on Darvas. Former police surgeon Charles Marquis (Julian Glover)who is currently seeing theatre actress Dani Gireaux (Lelia Goldoni), begins his own investigation of the theatre and is convinced that Darvas is responsible for the murders. Is Darvas in actual fact a vampire? After many red herrings are thrown in his path and Darvas himself mysteriously disappears the web begins to thicken until the surprise conclusion when it is revealed just who is responsible for the murders and why the victims are drained of all their blood.
For a modestly budgeted production "Theatre", boasts surprisingly high production values and terrific cinematography courtesy of Gilbert Taylor, and despite being set in Paris it most definately has a solid English feel about it. The main sets of this film such as the fascinating Grand Guginol Theatre of the title and the residence of Philippe Darvas, which is full of sliding doors, hidden passage ways and secret rooms are wonderful and really add to the overall atmosphere of the story. Performances are uniformily fine with Christopher Lee dominating the proceedings in his role as the sadistic and manical theatre head. Jenny Till as starlet Nicole Chapelle, veteran British actress Evelyn Laye as the theatre owner Madame Angelique, and Julian Glover as the intrepid Charles Marquis also add flavour to the proceedings in this unusual horror tale that does keep you guessing right up to the film's blood drenched climax.
A suitably dramatic pair of films for a most interesting double bill are included here on this DVD that sees both films restored from original vault material long deleted from television editions. The two villians of these two films, Christopher lee and Anton Diffring make an ideal pair and really lift both productions out of the ordinary for mystery lovers. For a spine chilling pair of thrillers full of murder, mystery and mayhem I strongly recommend this beautifully restored Anchor Bay DVD release of "Circus of Horrors/Theatre of Death.
DRIVE IN DISCS FROM ANCHOR BAY
Sheila Chilcote-Collins | Collinswood, Van Wert, OH USA | 03/01/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here are two gems with two yummy and hot male foreigners! The first film, Circus Of Horrors with the lead male played by Anton Diefring. Diefring plays a totally psychotic and over sexed plastic surgeon that takes over a carnival and subjects his female circus stars to some time under the knife with him. (HA HA) Diefring is a creepy, sexy, cold, megalomaniac intent on making disfigured women beautiful and then having his way with them. A youngish Donald Pleasance (the psychiatrist in the Halloween movies) has a bit part in the film. For the date the movie was filmed in (1960) it is QUITE THE horror/sexploitation film. The second film has Mr. Horror Guru himself, Christopher Lee as a creepalicious, power hungry theatre (of death) director and owner. The special effects are well done and the set of the theatre and Lee's home with secret passageways and the like is top-notch. This is the weaker of the two films, however, but still an enjoyable pic..."
Extras! Extras! Extras!
Irene Stape | NJ United States | 10/02/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Theatre of death is the weaker of these two films but has a great 11 min interview with Christopher Lee. Posters, still gallery and trailer. Circus of Horrors stars Anton Difring who plays a crazed plastic surgeon on the run who fixes the faces of women who he makes perform in his circus untill they try to leave that's when it becomes a horror show also includes a trailer tv spots still gallery and more Anchor Bay even puts in a nice insert with beautiful reproduced poster art and for 10 bucks it's a steal"
A GEM AND A DUD! NICE TRANSFER OF THESE FILMS!
! MR. KNOW IT ALL ;-b | TRI STATE AREA | 04/14/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I had never heard of 'Circus Of Horrors' before and came across a double feature DVD with another olf horror film 'Theatre Of Death'. I bought the DVD for 'Circus Of Horrors' as the single disc of this film is fetching a hefty sum on the after market. The good news is the double feature release has the same transfer and extras and you can find it a much better price. Below is my review and my rating for each film.
Theatre Of Death- 1 1/2 stars - This is pretty boring stuff, but the transfer looks very good and there are some interesting if short extras.
Circus Of Horrors - 4 stars - The film follows a doctor, a plastic surgeon who is a pioneer in the field who has to go into hiding because of an accident in one of his operations. He becomes the owner of a circus which he uses as a front where he looks for scarred victims to perform his experimental plastic surgery on. Once he has made his improvments to his subjects, he makes them work for him in his circus and if they want to leave the circus....he murders them! It is much better than it sounds!lol! It has good performances all around and some campy FX thrown in for good measure. A jolly good time for fans of vintage horror films"