Vampire Circus was one of the final Gothic horror films produced by Hammer Films. The 1970s saw audiences’ tastes moving towards gorier fare, which made the atmospheric costume dramas offered by Hammer seem downright quaint in comparison. Still, this late effort was one of their more imaginative vampire films, even if its production values were a little weak.
The film opens with an old-fashioned castle-storming. Count Mitterhaus, a vampire, has seduced the schoolmaster’s wife, Anna. She in turn picks up little girls in the woods to present to her new master. As the count says, after feeding on one of the children in a very creepy scene, ‘one lust feeds the other,’ upon which he takes Anna to his bed.
Anna’s husband rallies the townsfolk into an uproar, leading them on a mission of vengeance. It doesn’t go quite as planned, as the townsfolk make no distinction between Anna and her master, despite the schoolmaster’s attempts to save her. In the end, the count curses the people of the town that the blood of their children with revive him.
Fifteen years later, the town still lives in the shadow of its past. It is besieged by a plague (though we never really see that in the film, it’s only talked about, and the healthy townsfolk don’t seem all that concerned). The surrounding towns have set up roadblocks to quarantine the infected, which makes acquiring medicine somewhat more difficult, and the Burgomaster is fretting. In these dark days, comes a traveling circus.
‘Circus’ is probably too strong a word. It’s a small troop of performers; some acrobats, a lion tamer, dancers, a strong man, and a little person. It’s more of a carnival sideshow, really. But it is impressive, almost magical. Of course, it’s all black magic intended to distract the townspeople as their children are taken.
Anna is the Ring Mistress of this circus. She’s joined by Mitterhaus’s cousin Emil, who’s more odd looking than scary. He seduces the schoolmaster’s daughter, though I can’t imagine how. Anna has also brought twins, a boy and girl, her children (presumably with Mitterhaus).
Vampire Circus includes a lot of the features of Hammer’s classic period horrors, but feels a little less substantial. The sets are simpler, the costumes aren’t as nice, the visuals are less lush. It’s still a big production compared to most horror B movies, but a step down from Hammer’s heyday. The plot structure is familiar, but the set up is more original than the typical Hammer film. The circus breathes a lot of life into the old formula.