Hammer had fallen under scrutiny in the 1970’s. The vast majority of their movies were period pieces and with films like Rosemary’s Babyand Night of the Living Dead hitting theatres, Hammer was starting to look old fashioned and out of touch with audiences. Vampire Circus (1972) is still a period piece film, but it’s a heck of film. Sex and bloody violence fill the screen and the vampires are monsters who don’t glitter.
It opens with a beautiful woman (Domini Blythe) taking a young girl out of the forest and towards a castle. In the castle awaits the thirsty Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman). The Count feeds on the child and then makes love to the woman. The woman’s husband, Prof. Albert Mueller (Laurence Payne) rallies the townspeople to attack the castle and the evil Count. The ensuing battle is extremely bloody with many deaths that finally result in the Count’s own death. With his final breath, the Count curses the town and proclaims that their children’s blood will bring his return.
Fifteen years later the town is quarantined from the rest of the world. A mysterious plague has hit the town and the good but naive Dr. Kersh (Richard Owens) believes nothing of vampires or curses. Kersh decides to break the quarantine to get help and medical supplies. He manages to do this with the help of his son who stays behind. Simultaneously, a mysterious traveling circus arrives in town, proclaiming that they were unhindered in entering the town. Lead by a gypsy woman (Adrienne Corri), the circus features several strange acts. A man who changes into a panther, twin brother and sister vampire acrobats, Darth Vader is the strongman and for the kiddies, a naked body painted dancing snakewoman. It’s fun for the whole family.
Quickly it’s revealed that Emil (Anthony Higgins), the panther changing vampire, is really the late Count’s cousin out to resurrect the Count and take revenge on the town at the same time. The film moves at fast clip and director Robert Young keeps things stylish and gory while hiding the film’s lower budget fairly well. Unfortunately the film didn’t help Hammer out. When it was released in the U.S. it was severely edited for a PG rating thus making the film incomprehensible to audiences. Hammer only lasted a couple of years more and faded from the horror scene. This however is an overlooked Hammer classic.