Circus of Horrors (1960) Poster

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Lurid and risqué for its time, and still quite unsettling.
guanche19 March 2002
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.
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Sex and sadism under the big top
NewEnglandPat8 February 2004
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.
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Colourful shocker
heedarmy14 December 2000
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!
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Popcorn, Peanuts but no Elephants!
BaronBl00d3 August 1999
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.
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Madman, mayhem, and music
maxfabien9 October 2004
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.
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Horrifying, brutal and effective
The_Void9 July 2004
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 disappoint!

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.
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Great! Terrific!! I LOVE IT !!
Coventry8 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
(Small spoilers will follow) I can't tell you much about Circus of Horrors, except that it is one of the most surprising and entertaining horror films that I've ever seen. The plot outline is rather ludicrous and far-fetched, I admit, but at least it doesn't slow down for one second and it remains highly imaginative and amusing till the very last sequence. It may be loosely based on (and stolen from) Les Yeux sans Visage, but you can hardly consider that an obstacle anymore, since that masterpiece was such an influence on many movies. Circus of Horrors has more than enough elements to make it stand on its own, as a solid and devoted horror British horror effort. It features a terrific Anton Diffring as an obsessed plastic surgeon. He's forced to flee, after one of his operations went horribly wrong. Due to certain circumstances, he becomes the owner of a traveling circus in France. From then on, he occupies with refurbishing prostitutes and other unfortunate girls before casting them as performers in his circus. Whenever they become a danger for his hidden personality, they mysteriously die in their sensational circus-acts. After a while, this alarms the local and international authorities of course…

Besides the surprisingly good acting performances in Circus of Horrors, this film impresses because it's bizarre character and dared brutality. The protagonists in this film show very little humanity and behave like selfish and aggressive beasts. These aspects really build up a petrifying suspense… Circus of Horrors also satisfies the true horror lovers by showing some original and rather bloody killing sequences. Especially when keeping in mind that this motion picture was shot in 1960, it sure has a shocking photography and impressive make-up art. Several scenes will be hard to digest, like the knife-throwing `accident', for example. A true delight for classic horror fans and a very entertaining experience for all cinema lovers.
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Three rings of nasty fun
rufasff23 May 2002
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

purple plot.

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

it out!
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Anton Diffring at his nastiest!
The Welsh Raging Bull4 December 2001
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.....
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"Quick, get her to a doctor. And send the clowns in."
bensonmum24 February 2005
Warning: 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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