Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Young|
|Produced by||Wilbur Stark
|Screenplay by||Judson Kinberg|
|Story by||George Baxt
|Music by||David Whitaker|
|Editing by||Peter Musgrave|
|Studio||Hammer Film Productions|
|Distributed by||Rank Film Distributors Ltd|
|Release date(s)||30 April 1972|
|Running time||87 min.|
Vampire Circus is a 1972 English horror film, directed by Robert Young. It was written by Judson Kinberg, and produced by Wildburg Stark and Michael Carreras (who was uncredited) for Hammer Film Productions. It stars Adrienne Corri, Thorley Walters and Anthony Higgins (billed as Anthony Corlan). The story concerns a travelling carnival whose vampiric artists prey on the children of a 19th-century Austrian village. It was filmed at Pinewood Studios.
Schoolmaster Albert Müller witnesses his wife Anna taking a little girl to the castle of vampire Count Mitterhaus, where the child is killed. The villagers, led by Müller and the mayor, invade the castle and attack the Count, driving a wooden stake through his heart. With his dying breath, Mitterhaus curses the villagers, vowing that their children will die to give him back his life. The villagers force Anna to run the gauntlet, after which she runs back to the castle, where the briefly-revived Count tells her to find his cousin Emil. Meanwhile the villagers set the castle on fire.
Fifteen years later, the village is ravaged by the plague and blockaded by the authorities. The citizens fear that the pestilence may be due to the Count's curse. A travelling circus, led by a dwarf and a gypsy woman, arrives in the village and the villagers appreciate the distraction from their troubles. One of the artists, Emil, is actually a vampire and Count Mitterhaus's cousin. Emil and the gypsy woman go to the castle, where they find the Count's staked body and reiterate the curse, that all who attacked on his cousin and all their children must die.
During a visit to the circus, the Burgermeister has a vision of a revived Count Mitterhaus, and collapses. Frightened by this event, one villager and his family try to flee the blocked town but are devoured by the circus panther. Müller's daughter Dora discovers the dismembered bodies of the family, arousing suspicions about the animals of the circus. When the dead bodies of two village boys are found, the Burgermeister and another man begin to shoot the circus animals. After an encounter with Emil, the Burgermeister dies of heart failure, while his daughter runs off with Emil, who bites and kills the girl.
Dora and Anton encounter twin vampires, but the cross Dora is wearing saves her. Later, the vampires enter the school house; Emil, in panther form, kills the students, while the gypsy (now revealed as the twins' mother by Mitterhaus) tears the cross from Dora's neck, enabling the twins to attack her. Dora, however, escapes into the school chapel, where the twin vampires are destroyed. Meanwhile, Anton's father, Dr. Kersch, who has escaped the blockade, returns from the capital with an imperial escort and medicines for the plague. He also brings news of vampire killings in various other villages, all of them toured by the Circus of Night. The men attack the circus and set fire to it.
In the crypt at Castle Mitterhaus, the gypsy woman is killed when she attempts to save Dora from Emil. As she falls down dead, the gypsy's face is transformed, revealing her to be Anna Müller. Anton, Müller and the soldiers attack the crypt, and Müller pierces Emil with the stake from the Count's chest before he himself dies. The Count rises from his sarcophagus and is destroyed by Anton. As Anton and Dora exit the tomb, the villagers set the ruins alight with torches, ending the curse.
- Laurence Payne as Professor Albert Müller
- Domini Blythe as Anna Müller, his wife
- Lynne Frederick as Dora Müller, their daughter
- Thorley Walters as Mayor
- Adrienne Corri as Gypsy woman
- Mary Wimbush as Elvira, the mayor's wife
- Christina Paul as Rosa, the mayor's daughter
- Robin Sachs as Heinrich (twin brother of Helga)
- Lalla Ward as Helga (twin sister of Heinrich)
- Richard Owens as Dr. Kersch
- John Moulder-Brown as Anton Kersch, his son
- Robin Hunter as Mr Hauser
- Elizabeth Seal as Gerta Hauser, his wife
- Barnaby Shaw as Gustav Hauser, their son
- John Bown as Mr Schilt
- Jane Darby as Jenny Schilt, his daughter
- Robert Tayman as Count Mitterhaus
- Skip Martin as Michael the dwarf
- Anthony Higgins (billed as Anthony Corlan) as Emil
- David Prowse as the Strongman
- Serena as the erotic tiger-woman dancer
Three of the cast – Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri and Lalla Ward – would be reunited in the 1980 season of the British sci-fi/fantasy series Doctor Who in the serial The Leisure Hive. The film also heralded the screen debut of Lynne Frederick, who would later marry comic Peter Sellers. David Prowse, who later played Darth Vader in the first Star Wars trilogy, appears in a silent role as the circus strongman.
Critical reception 
AllMovie called the film "one of the studio's more stylish and intelligent projects". PopMatters also called it "one of the company's last great classics", writing, "erotic, grotesque, chilling, bloody, suspenseful and loaded with doom and gloom atmosphere, this is the kind of experiment in terror that reinvigorates your love of the scary movie artform.". Andrew Smith at Popcorn Pictures said that the film was one of Hammer's greatest vampire films and "possibly one of their best films overall."
Critics at the time of its original release weren't quite as impressed. New York Times film reviewer Howard Thompson dismissed it outright without even the courtesy of a proper review in favor of its double-billing Hammer counterpart "Countess Dracula". His curt review measured two sentences, "Wise horror fans will skip 'Vampire Circus' and settle for 'Countess Dracula' on the new double bill at the Forum. Both are Hammer Productions, England's scream factory, but the first was dealt a quick, careless anvil." before continuing with semi-praise for Countess Dracula.
A novelization by Mark Morris is scheduled for publication on 27 November 2012.
- "Vampire Circus - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
- "Vampire Circus (1971) - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
- Gibron, Bill (4 February 2011). "One Last Bloody Gasp: 'Vampire Circus' (Blu-ray) < PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
- Vampire Circus (1972) Review Popcorn Pictures
- "Double Bill of Horror Arrives". New York Times. October 12, 1972. Retrieved 2013-05-16.