Circus of Horrors is a fairly gnarly British horror movie from 1960. It was directed by Sidney Hayers, a workmanlike director who mainly did thrillers, along with a couple of horror movies. In the twilight of his career he went to the US and worked on a lot of the big TV shows of ’80s, having already amassed quite a few credits in British TV. This film became a surprise hit, probably due to the fantastic poster, and was released in the US by American International Pictures as a double feature with the very silly The Angry Red Planet.
Anton Diffring was a great German character, who early in his British career he became known for playing Nazis in war films. The fact that he played Nazis was deeply ironic, because he fled Nazi Germany due to fears of being prosecuted for his homosexuality. Later on in his career, Diffring had a very memorable role in Fahrenheit 451, but he also returned to playing a Nazi in Jerry Lewis’s still-unreleased The Day the Clown Cried. In Circus of Horrors he plays an equally vile character, Dr. Rossiter, who is a pretty impressive but monstrous surgeon for 1960.
Rossiter and his assistants (Kenneth Griffith and Jane Hylton) flee to England after an operation that ends in disaster They soon befriend a circus owner played by Donald Pleasance, but a drunken incident soon ends in the circus owner’s death. In a truly sick and twisted way, the doctor seduces disfigured woman and “fixes them up,” after which they become a part of the show. Soon some of them start dying, and the media and Scotland Yard are on his trail.
The film is full of pretty gruesome scenes, which you are kind of stunned that they got away with—this was the same year as Psycho and Peeping Tom, after all! Here we’re talking knives being thrown at scantily clad woman where you actually see the gore. There were some censorship issues, but mainly just about some topless nudity during the sideshow scenes.
It’s not a great film, but Circus of Horrors is an enjoyable entry in the sub-genre of carny horror movies, which I’m a great fan of. The cast is full of great British character actors, which elevates the tawdry subject material a bit.
The extras on the Blu-Ray includes new interviews with Kim Newman and the broadcaster Stuart Maconie, plus a behind-the-scenes galley and the original trailer.