Original theatrical poster
|Directed by||Jim O'Connolly|
|Produced by||Herman Cohen
|Written by||Herman Cohen|
|Music by||John Scott|
|Edited by||Raymond Poulton|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|September 1967 (UK), January 1968 (US)|
Berserk! (also known as Circus of Blood) is a 1967 British horror-thriller film starring Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, and Judy Geeson in a macabre mother-daughter tale about a circus plagued with murders. The screenplay was written by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel, and the film directed by Jim O'Connolly. Berserk! marks Crawford's second-to-last big-screen appearance.
When tightrope walker Gaspar the Great falls to his death, it appears that his tightrope might have been purposely weakened. Monica's unemotional reaction to the tragedy alarms Dorando. When she suggests it will be good for business, he asks her to buy him out, which she refuses to do.
Monica hires a new high-wire walker, Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin). Not only is he handsome, he is daring, doing his act over a carpet of sharp bayonets. Monica is impressed, especially by his physical appearance. Shortly after an argument, Dorando is found gruesomely murdered. Suspicion of Monica's guilt grows. Frank in particular suspects her, having seen her leaving Dorando's trailer before the body was discovered. He confronts Monica, demanding a share in the circus for his silence.
Monica's daughter, Angela (Judy Geeson), having been expelled from school, shows up at the circus. Not knowing what to do with her unruly daughter, Monica pairs her with Gustavo the knife thrower (Peter Burton). Another member of the circus company, Matilda (Diana Dors), attempts to seduce Frank, which Monica discovers.
During Matilda's act, a magician's trick involving the illusion of being sawn in half, there is a malfunction in the equipment and she is killed. And during his next high-wire performance, Frank falls onto the bayonets and is killed.
It was not an accident. Angela was seen throwing a knife into him before he fell. She confesses having hated her mother for years as a result of being ignored, now "removing" those who take up her mother's time. She then unsuccessfully tries to kill her mother. As Angela attempts to escape, she is electrocuted by an exposed wire during a rainstorm. Monica sobs inconsolably over her daughter's body.
- Joan Crawford as Monica Rivers
- Ty Hardin as Frank Hawkins
- Diana Dors as Matilda
- Michael Gough as Albert Dorando
- Judy Geeson as Angela Rivers
- Robert Hardy as Detective Supt. Brooks
- Geoffrey Keen as Commissioner Dalby
- Sydney Tafler as Harrison Liston
- George Claydon as Bruno Fontana
- Philip Madoc as Lazlo
- Ambrosine Phillpotts as Miss Burrows
- Thomas Cimarro as Gaspar
- Peter Burton as Gustavo
- Golda Casimir as Bearded Lady
- Ted Lune as Skeleton Man
- Milton Reid as Strong Man
- Marianne Stone as Wanda
- Miki Iveria as Gypsy Fortune-Teller
- Howard Goorney as Emil
- Reginald Marsh as Sergeant Hutchins
- Bryan Pringle as Constable Bradford
Howard Thompson gave the film a mostly negative review in The New York Times, comparing it unfavorably to Circus of Horrors, but also commented, "It's also hard to make a hopeless movie with a circus background and sawdust aroma. This is the one solid thing the picture has going for it—the intriguing workaday routine of circus folk and some good, spangly ring acts, all handsomely conveyed in excellent color photography. And under the reasonable direction of Jim O'Connolly, the film does project a kind of defiant suspense that dares you not to sit there, see who gets it next and, finally, why." He goes on to state that Crawford "...is professional as usual and certainly the shapeliest ringmaster ever to handle a ring microphone."
Frank Leyendecker in Greater Amusements wrote, "Joan Crawford gives authority and extreme conviction to the colorful role of a circus owner and ringmaster...she consistently rises above the highly melodramatic, yet exploitable, material."
Lawrence Quirk wrote in Hollywood Screen Parade, "[Crawford] is all over the picture, radiant, forceful, authoritative, a genuine movie star whose appeal never diminishes."
Box office receipts for Berserk were considerable. In North America, the film grossed more than $1,100,000 and ranked #85 on Variety's list of top money makers of 1968. Box office receipts overseas nearly doubled that amount, coming in at $2,095,000. This made Berserk the most successful film Herman Cohen ever produced.
Berserk! was released on Region 1 DVD on 6 September 2011 from Columbia Classics DVD Collection. This is a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release, available online through Warner Archive Collection and ClassicFlix and only in the US.
- "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969 p 15. Please note this figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
- John Hamilton, The British Independent Horror Film 1951–70 Hemlock Books 2013 p 181-185
- "Movie Review - Berserk - Circus Chiller - NYTimes.com". Retrieved 3 March 2016.
- Quirk, Lawrence J.. The Films of Joan Crawford. The Citadel Press, 1968.
- "Herman Cohen » Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Part 6 of 6". Retrieved 3 March 2016.
- "The Top Box-Office Hits of 1968", Variety Weekly, 8 January 1969.
- Herman Cohen Production Papers for Berserk