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I recall seeing this film as a child in 1960. My mother was quite angry
at dad for taking us to a movie that was "definitely not for children".
This is a grim story of a doctor fleeing some botched plastic
surgeries. He takes over a backwoods circus and populates it with
beautiful, yet disfigured female performers whom he restores to beauty
and rescues from lives of prostitution and rejection. Of course, once
the circus becomes successful, the ladies no longer feel like putting
up with, or putting out for him, so he devises elaborate circus
"accidents" to deal with their ingratitude.
The song "Look For A Star" permeates the movie at various times. At first, it's almost unnoticeable, a seemingly lame early sixties pop tune. However, as the movie progresses it takes on a sinister, disturbing aspect and circulates the brain long after it is over.
The film is well acted and truly suspenseful. A must for those who like their sex and violence done in a literate, intelligent manner.
This is a strange little horror gem from the early sixties about a mad plastic surgeon who must flee England because of some not very sound surgery practices. Once out of England, he(played by Anton Diffring with aplomb) and his two cohorts murder their way into owning a run-down circus whilst in France. From there on ten years pass as the doctor fixes the disfigured faces of thieves and prostitutes in return for their services in the circus. Well...I am not making this up but the doctor and his renegade circus performers then travel all over Europe and become a huge success. Problems start to happen though as the beautiful female star attractions want out of the circus...and the bed of Diffring...only to find their solace in bizarre deaths...circus-related of course. One female is killed in a knife-throwing accident while another falls while trapezing. This is a credulous scenario to be sure, but the film is quite fun. The acting is good: Diffring is marvelous as the mad physician plagued with his obsession for perfection in beauty, Donald Pleasance is quite good in a small role, and the female leads are quite stunning...visually of course. The music is rather hokey...very sixties, but atmosphere is otherwise rather well-staged. All in all I think I would prefer this over spending my time in a real circus...what a "real" horror. Enjoy.
One of the best horror films of the 1960s is this entry with its interesting mix of suspense, sex and mysterious deaths that has the benefit of real circus settings and fine work by Anton Diffring as the outlaw plastic surgeon. Diffring is the erudite but flawed medical genius whose past is littered with botched operations but continues his work behind the prop of a circus staffed with female performers whose faces he has restored in exchange for fealty and silence. Diffring gives the film its pulse as the resourceful and controlling renegade who keeps his flawed females on a very short leash. The film moves along at a good pace with no filler or wasted scenes. Donald Pleasance, erstwhile owner of the circus, is among the good supporting cast that includes the buxom ladies who are at great risk under Diffring's watchful, evil eye.
Trying to emulate the success of Hammer Films, Anglo-Amalgamated made a
series of gruesome contemporary horror shockers around 1959/60 (others
included "Peeping Tom" & "Horrors of the Black Museum").
This cheerfully lurid shocker exploits the mixed emotions we feel when watching circus performers - the idea of something going terribly wrong is horrible, yet exciting. But crude as the concept is, cast and crew play it for all it's got : Anton Diffring is excellent in the lead role and Sidney Hayers' direction is slick and effective.
The all-stops-out climax is great stuff and there's an effective final scene. The frequently-heard background song, "Reach For A Star", is corny but you won't be able to shake it out of your head!
After the fantastic opening sequence in which a young woman smashes all the
mirrors in her room before revealing herself to have horrible facial scars,
you just know you're in for a treat, and this movie certainly doesn't
The story follows Doctor Rossiter, a plastic surgeon that finds he has to flee England after an operation on a young woman went horribly wrong. He then goes to, as the film says, 'somewhere in France', where, after certain events transpire, he becomes the owner of a French circus. He uses this circus as a cover so he can use his anxious hands to operate on disfigured women so he can put them into his circus show as beautiful performers. He dubs the circus "the circus of beauty", but after several of his performers die in horrible "accidents", it later becomes the "The Jinx Circus", and attracts attention from the local police authorities
Anton Diffring looks suitably evil as the plastic surgeon that uses his skills to change the faces of women with scars to make them beautiful performers in his circus. His character is portrayed as being malevolent and inhumane throughout the film, as all he cares for is himself and his work, which is shown best by the way he treats the love given to him by his associate's sister, which makes it hard for the audience to feel anything at all for him. Even when he displays human emotion by falling in love with one of patients, his character is still shown in a bad light and we are still made to hate him. This, however, is a definite asset to the movie as it makes the audience feel contempt for the man, and that pays off immensely towards the ending, which is rich with poetic justice. Had the character have had a prevalent human element, this ending would not have worked nearly as well.
The plotting throughout the film is thrilling and suspenseful, certain scenes in particular such as the sequence where the young girl has her bandages removed and the knife throwing scenes are positively nail biting. The film captures the imagination and keeps the viewer fully entertained throughout it's running time without getting boring for a second. The film also manages to do a thing that few films really manage, and that is that it's actually quite horrifying. The scars shown on the faces of his victims are horrible, but only horrible enough so they're still believable. Had the film gone over the top in the make up department, it could have lead to the scars looking silly and therefore unbelievable, but it's all spot on. One of my favourite things about this movie is the act done by the 'death defying woman of the air', Elissa Caro; the act in itself is impressive, but when blended with a pop song and cheers from the audience it gives it a haunting and atmospheric feel and the outcome of that is really quite beautiful.
Circus of Horrors is without a doubt one of the finest British horror films ever made, and therefore it is definitely recommended viewing.
Anton Diffring plays the definitive psycho-narcissist, using all those around him as pawns for his personal pleasures and goals. I saw this film on it's initial theatrical release in 1960. (As a young boy of 10,I recall,I was pleasantly shocked at seeing the scantily clad female circus performers!) And I now own the film on laserdisc. The suspense still holds up well, and though the violence is not as explicit as you find in today's horror films, it is still on the gruesome side. Call me sentimental, but I like the theme song that is sung during the performance of the circus's female headliner ("Look for a Star"). It is typical early 60's love song ala Frankie Avalon, but it is a pretty song inserted within all the gruesome murder and violence around it. Very effective if you think about it. My rating: 8 out of 10 stars.
I believe it was Frank "Basketcase" Henlotter who once named this as
his all time favorite film, solely based on the absurdity of the wildly
He's got a point, what with a wanted man hiding by becoming
ringmaster of "the jinx" circus, where the star attractions have a way
of getting knocked off. If you saw this, like me, years ago on a little black and white
T.V.(on UHF) the great, loaded, letterboxed DVD of this colorful film
will come as a real revelation. This is great, well acted, B movie fun a lot of people are yet to
discover. The thin, still with hair Donald Plesence had already been in
films for many years when he did his memorable small part in this. Check
A potent, well-paced and oddly memorable horror film with an outstanding
leading performance from Anton Diffring, who could play cold and crude
characters for fun.
The circus background (a venue synonymous with enjoyment and family entertainment) effectively enhances the nastiness in this film. The illicit reasons behind the use of plastic surgery also add to the general aura of horror.
A nastily effective British horror film - easily Diffring's best performance - and still watchable today.....
'Circus Of Horrors' is one of the most entertaining movies it has ever been my pleasure to see! It is corny and melodramatic, and the plot is totally ludicrous (which is one of the things that make it so special), but you can't help but get caught up in it. Anton Diffring is wonderful as a brilliant plastic surgeon who flees England in disgrace and ends up running a French circus which he stocks with criminals and prostitutes that he has operated on. He wants it to be known as "the Circus Of Beauty", but it gains notoriety as "the Jinx Circus" after several mysterious deaths, all performers who intended leaving him. You get the picture. Diffring really makes the most of his role and it is impossible to keep your eyes off him. The supporting cast includes several fine British character actors, including 'Halloween's Donald Pleasence (who is in the most unintentionally hilarious scene of the movie, I'll say no more...) and Kenneth Griffith (a familiar face from countless movies and someone who fans of 'The Prisoner' will recognize as a #2). There are also a handful stunning beauties on screen, particularly Yvonne Monlaur (Hammer's 'The Brides Of Dracula'), who plays Diffring's adopted "niece", and Erika Remberg, who went on to appear in the erotic classic 'The Lickerish Quartet'. This movie is fantastic fun for 60s horror/suspense buffs. Highly recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A plastic surgeon (Dr. Rossiter), who has just butchered the face of a
patient, is on the run. After having an accident and requiring plastic
surgery himself, he and his assistants travel to France so the doctor
may start anew with a new face and name. After a fatal accident to the
owner of a circus, Dr. Rossiter takes over. He soon discovers that he
can continue his plastic surgery experiments by operating on murderers,
thieves, and prostitutes who all just happen to have some sort of
facial deformity or scar. The patients, also with new identities, go to
work for the doctor in his circus. The doctor keeps them in line and
working through blackmail. As he knows their true identities, they are
reluctant to leave. Soon, however, some of the patients become restless
and try to 'escape' the doctor. Dr. Rossiter, through a series of
'accidents', makes sure they don't, thereby keeping his secret. Any
more of the story would be too much.
Circus of Horrors is a very visually pleasing film. The film's makers appear to have been heavily influenced by the Hammer movies being produced at the time. The lavish colors, costumes, and sets are very Hammer-like. And, like many of the Hammer movies, this one must have been quite shocking for its time. As an example, a knife throwing scene turns particularly nasty.
The movie also features some wonderful acting. Anton Diffring is especially sinister as the mad doctor. Donald Pleasence, in a small role, highlights an above average supporting cast.
The only problem I have with the movie is its tendency to lose focus. Too often, circus scenes seem to go on a little too long and drag the movie down to a snail's pace.
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