Vampire Circus

Vampire Circus (1972)
Synapse Films
Cast: Robert Tayman, Anthony Corlan, Domini Blythe
Extras: Featurettes, Motion Comic Book, Still Gallery

How many out there had a sly smile when 'Let Me In' was prefaced by a Hammer Films logo? Those in the know have been following the legendary British studio for decades, trying to turn their friends on to the bloody and often sensual style of horror. Thanks to the fine folks at Synapse Films, Hammer fans may finally have their foot in the door. For their 100th release Synapse has released a classic from the studio, the erotic gem 'Vampire Circus'. Housed in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, this set may be an underrated gem from 2010's release catalogue.

Set in the 16th century, an extended opening scene introduces the world to Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman). The disillusioned wife of a local townsfolk and an innocent young girl are inside his castle as the rest of the town rally to seek bloodshed. They retaliate only to have the Count set a plan of revenge in motion by having Anna (Domini Blythe) contact his cousin Emil (Anthony Corlan). A dozen and a half plague filled years pass and the town believes they are suffering through a curse the Count has placed on them. When the Circus of Nights roll into town with their cast of odd characters, the town quickly realizes that the curse has just begun.

'Vampire Circus' oozes with a cool vibe. The horror gem seduces with the sexiness of a Giallo and delights with gore while never losing the trademark feel that Hammer films are known for. How this movie is rated PG is a mystery to me. Almost forty years later the film may still raise a few eyebrows with some of the risqué scenes. An strangely erotic dance sequence featuring a tiger striped dancer named Serena (Serena) is one that comes to mind as she convulses with ecstasy during her performance with Milovan (Milovan). As does the way the Count looks at a young girl he is about to descend on. Gore fans will be pleased with the release as well. The trademark red blood (which always reminds me of Tom Savini's blood from 'Dawn of The Dead') is plentiful throughout the film and Count Mitterhaus has an entertainingly odd fighting style (like some sort of super villain with fangs) as the townsfolk converge on him. These are just a few of the oddities that allow 'Vampire Circus' to stand out from the competition. It is a diverse movie that should please longtime Hammer Films fans and have the strength to earn a few more along the way.

'Vampire Circus' hits Blu-Ray with a 1080p, 1.66:1 AVC encoded transfer. The film retains its classic look while getting some enhancements in the color and detail department. The red blood that made Hammer Films famous stands out, but colors do have a muted feel to them. There are also odd yellow markings in the center of the screen about twenty minutes in. They are not overly distracting, but very noticeable. Many will be forgiving of the shortcomings as the entire package is an upgrade over previous versions of the film.

'Vampire Circus' rolls into town with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 soundtrack. Never intended for a 5.1 sound field, the movie excels with the higher bit rate. Dialogue, music, and effects are balanced well within the front field. The mix doesn't sport the depth many have grown accustomed to with the Blu-Ray format, but does well for an oft overlooked horror film from 1972. A great addition is the lossless 2.0 music and effects track. These isolated tracks used to be popular back in the laserdisc days and I hope their inclusion makes a comeback as the Blu-Ray format continues to grow.

One of the beauties of a Synapse Film release is they will supply the goods in regards to extra features. Right off the bat, fans will notice the beautiful, artistic cover. It is a subliminal way to let film geeks know that 'Vampire Circus' is going to exceed multiple levels of expectations for those who give the disc a spin. With 'The Bloodiest Show On Earth: Making Vampire Circus' (32:39), Joe Dante and others give brief interviews covering Hammer Films, the tone of 'Vampire Circus', Robert Young's involvement, and their personal experiences with the film. Hearing about the impression a Japanese cut of the film left on Tim Lucas is particularly humorous. This featurette covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but will really sell Hammer Films to somebody just starting to get into the studio. 'Gallery of Grotesqueries: A Brief History Of Circus Horrors' (15:07) does a great job of bridging the gap between 'Vampire Circus' and other films cut from the same cloth. Given the market is saturated with vampire movies, the focus here is on twisted circus films. Moving fairly swiftly, this featurette will certainly provide outstanding recommendations by giving broad stroke insights to classics like 'Freaks', 'House of Frankenstein' and many more. 'Visiting The House Of Hammer: Britain's Legendary Horror Magazine' (9:47) covers some ground that may be new to a lot of film fans in the States. Film Historian Philip Nutman adds bits and pieces of information to an amazingly thorough voice over as the featurette showcases many of the beautiful art pieces that graced the magazine covers and pages. This leads perfectly into 'Vampire Circus – Motion Comic Book' (3:15), an abbreviated black and white look at the story through the pages of a comic. This isn't the type of motion comic that is 'alive' (like 'The Watchman' Blu-Ray) rather still panels that the disc progresses through at a comfortable pace. Rounding out the disc are the Original Theatrical Trailer for 'Vampire Circus' and a close to two minute slideshow of stills and posters for the film.

The world needs to know that there are more to Hammer Films than Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. 'Vampire Circus' is the type of underrated film that deserves five-star treatment and, thanks to Synapse Films, has finally gotten it. The film has never looked or sounded better and all of the supplements have been handpicked to compliment the release without feeling like fluff. Synapse Films first Blu-Ray release not only showcases an underrated genre highlight, it also rekindled my interest in finding more classic Hammer Films that I haven't yet visited. If you are a horror fan, this release is highly recommended.