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CIRCUS OF HORRORS (director: Sidney Hayers; screenwriter: George Baxt; cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe; editor: Reginald Mills; music: Muir Mathieson/Franz Reizenstein; cast: Anton Diffring (Dr. Schuler/Dr. Rossiter), Erika Remberg (Elissa Caro), Yvonne Monlaur (Nicole Vanet), Carla Challoner (Nicole as a child),Donald Pleasence (Vanet), Jane Hylton (Angela), Kenneth Griffith (Martin), Conrad Phillips (Insp. Arthur Ames), Jack Gwillim (Supt. Andrews), Vanda Hudson (Magda von Meck), Yvonne Romain (Melina), Colette Wilde (Evelyn Morley Finsbury), John Merivale (Edward Finsbury),William Mervyn (Doctor Morley); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Leslie Parkyn/Julian Wintle; Anchor Bay; 1960-UK)
Has some brilliant gory Grand Guignolmoments during its circus sequences.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Overlooked Scottish-bornfilmmakerSidney Hayers (“Burn Witch Burn”/”The Trap”/”Revenge”) helms this uneven but gripping and lurid shocker mad scientist horror pic, that has some brilliant gory Grand Guignolmoments during its circus sequences (thanks to using the famed Billy Smart’s Circus of England to make sure things look authentic) but shoots itself in the foot with a poorly executed drawn-out climax. It’s cleverly written by George Baxt.

The unorthodox egomaniac German plastic surgeon Dr. Rossiter (Anton Diffring, German actor), in 1947, is forced to flee England after performing a botched illegal experimental surgery on a society woman, who took off her bandages too soon and that resulted in permanent facial disfigurement and a short trip to the loony bin to recover from her shock. Rossiter flees to France with his helpers, the creepy siblings Martin (Kenneth Griffith) and Angela (Jane Hylton). The police stop searching for Rossiter, believing he might have died in a car crash that killed a constable. Rossiter undergoes plastic surgery and takes the name Dr. Schuler, and flees to France. On a back road, the doctor while on-the-lam meets a scarred from the war French girl named Nicole (Carla Challoner) and talks her impoverished circus owner father Vanet (Donald Pleasence) into letting him operate. The operation is a success and the grateful dad makes Schuler a partner in the rundown circus, and then conveniently dies when he’s drunk and a bear attacks him with Schuler standing nearby but offering no help. Within a ten year period the traveling circus becomes prosperous and celebrated, as the psychotic Schuler finds scarred women of ill-repute in the street and uses his experimental techniques to make them beautiful. The grateful beauties become the circus acts (trapeze artists, lion tamers, equestrian riders and so on) and his lovers, but when the ladies want to exit the circus, tiring of their control freak benefactor, he causes them to have a fatal accident. The accidents or untraceable murders, attract crowds to the circus, which earns it the name of the Jinxed Circus. When the emboldened Schuler feels he’s no longer in danger of arrest, he returns to England with his circus to star his latest operation success Melina (Yvonne Romain) as a lion tamer. But Scotland Yard hasn’t closed the Rossiter case and is highly suspicious of the 12 circus deaths in Schuler’s big top, especially after talking with the police in other European countries. So they send an undercover cop (Conrad Phillips), posing as a reporter, and he’s able to flush out that Schuler is indeed Rossiter by questioning the grown-up Nicole (Yvonne Monlaur) while romancing her, interviewing the lady performers and inviting the mentally recovered but still unforgiving society lady (Colette Wilde) to attend his circus.

The gist of the film has the bevy of bimbo sexy ladies meet with stylish accidents that include a knife-throwing accident, a fall from the big top, and being mauled in the cage by a bunch of growling lions. While the masterpiece horror pic about plastic surgeons and disfigured women is undoubtedly the lyrical French film Eyes Without a Face (1959) directed by Franju, which sets the gold standard for this genre, this one settles into being a disturbing but pleasingly bizarre well-constructed B-film horror story that might be crude and not too lyrical–but it holds your attention.

Of the ladies not mentioned above but who added to the film’s entertainment value, there was Vanda Hudson as an equestrienne queen and Erika Remberg as the bitchy high-wire artist.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”