I’m a sucker for a 1960s horror film. It’s like directors and writers just went wild and felt like they could write about anything and everything. Standard stories were subverted in strange new ways by incorporating sensational news stories.
Circus of Horrors is one of many horrors of the time that focused in on radical plastic surgery. We fear what we do not understand and the idea of changing the human face by choice was a shocking one. Circus of Horrors stands out by focusing on the repercussions for failure.
Dr. Rossiter is forced to flea England because a rich man’s adult daughter goes mad after corrective plastic surgery. She removed the bandages after the first phase of a long series of procedures and now the authorities want the doctor. He flees with his assistants Martin and Angela to France, where he takes over a circus and populates it with criminals. The criminals are blackmailed to stay at the circus because of Rossiter’s, now Shuler’s, cosmetic procedures to hide their identities.
There’s a lot going on in Circus of Horrors, which helps to distract from some pretty big flaws. The actors are flat and the foreshadowing very heavy. There’s also an easily disproven plot layer about murders at the circus declared accidents with minimal investigation. The screenplay addresses the absurdity, but the suggestion that so many investigators were so easily duped really tries believability.
Despite the flaws, Circus of Horrors is a very watchable horror movie. It’s just so tawdry and stuffed with strange ideas that something is bound to stick with you. I was drawn to the frustration of Dr. Shuler’s assistants. Angela, a former lover, and Martin, an underused surgeon, become increasingly frustrated with their friend’s antics. They know that if the police get a hold of Dr. Rossiter, they will also be investigated. Their silence and obedience is forced in the original act of circus-driven blackmail.
Another great element of the film is the magnificent circus acts. Dr. Shuler needed over the top, high risk acts to make his plan work. The film is stuffed with dangerous horse riding, a netless rope spinner, and more sharp objects than you can imagine. Even if the horror doesn’t take you, the sensational circus eye candy is worth the price of admission.
Circus of Horrors is steaming on Netflix right now. It’s super messy, but has enough horror and thriller variety to grab you with something. See not? Share your thoughts.