Vampire Circus (1972)



First of all, this:


Second of all, Vampire Circus received a PG rating!  Unless scenes were cut for the American release, I can imagine the “hubba-hubba” elation I would have felt if I saw this movie in the theater as a little kid and can imagine my mom or dad angrily whispering, “turn your head, son!”

Vampire Circus is a later period Hammer film that loosely fits into their much steamier later period films such as Twins of Evil, The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire and Countess Dracula.  Notice they didn’t make Lust for Frankenstein or Frankenstein’s Sexy Nymphs because I don’t think there is any way to make a sexy Frankenstein picture.  And no, Frankenhooker wasn’t sexy.

As indicated above Hammer pictures was moving in a more salacious direction primarily to keep up with the changing trends in cinema and partially just to stay afloat.  In all of that came this remarkable vampire picture, which succeeds in being unique, creepy and, well, erotic.  I would say it borders on European erotic horror films; it certainly has the right amount of nudity for that!  Oh and there’s a surprising amount of gore for a PG rated movie as well.

In the prologue, a young, cute nymphette, Anna Mueller (Domini Blythe) runs to a castle to have a passionate romantic love affair with vampire Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman).  Both are caught by her husband Prof. Albert Mueller (Laurence Payne), who looks more like her dad (wonder why she ran way…).  Mueller impales the count but the count promises to get his revenge.  Afterwards Anna Mueller is brutally flogged by the town folk for her lechery and runs back to the castle, which the town folk then burn down.

Fifteen years later a plague has hit the town.  The superstitious people believe it’s the vampire’s curse but Prof. Mueller doesn’t believe vampires exist (after all, he killed the vampire but anyone would die from getting impaled, ya know?).  Then the caravan rolls in!

Led by the sexy Gypsy Woman (Adrienne Cori, who looks quite stunning with all that flowing red hair) and consisting of a painted up dwarf, a  strong man, two acrobatic types, a lion tamer of sorts, a naked tiger dancer and Emil (Anthony Higgins) who can shape shift into a leopard, the circus allegedly comes to bring the woa-begotten folk some joy.  They perform various circus tricks and it seems innocent enough – well, as innocent as a completely naked woman painted green with tiger stripes performing a sexually charged dance with the lion tamer in front of men, women and children can be – but soon things take a turn for the worst.

It’s revealed pretty early on that the circus hasn’t come out of good spirits but to avenge Count Mitterhaus.  What’s interesting is that not everyone in the group is a vampire; only the shape shifting Emil and the two acrobatic dancers.  The rest just do their cicusy thing, albeit maliciously.  Remember kids; dwarfs aren’t to be trusted!  The circus people do a variety of bad things whether it be traumatize an old man via a nightmarish carnival mirror, lure a group of people into a forest just to have the very same circus animals brutally ripped them to shreds and of course the standard blood sucking expected of the vampires.  In fact little kids aren’t even safe.

Which leads me to another point.  This movie has some weird overtones of pedophilia.  I dunno, maybe the vampires are just biting the little kids for their blood but, considering what vampirism has always implied, it adds a certain level of creepiness.  Otherwise though, Vampire Circus is an underrated little gem that deserves to be re-examined.  Hammer was going through some rough times financially which prompted them to think a little outside the box and this is a good example of that!

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)



Well now I’ve seen all of Hammer’s Frankenstein movies thanks to youtube.  With so many horror movies that I haven’t seen yet, such as The Creeping Flesh, Vampire Circus, Countess Dracula and Frankenstein’s Daughter, available, I wonder if there is even a reason to have a netflix account anymore.

One important thing to note about The Horror of Frankenstein is that it is not canonical with the rest of the Frankenstein movies, all of which feature the continuing struggle of Peter Cushing, the famed mad scientist/anti-hero and his experiments to bring the dead to life.  Instead The Horror of Frankenstein, directed by in-house Hammer-man Jimmy Sangster, tells the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein all over again.  But, even moreso, I feel that it tells the story of an entirely different doctor who happens to be called Victor Frankenstein.  Let me explain.

The Horror of Frankenstein begins with Victor Frankenstein (Ralph Bates) as a student.  The opening sequence is Frankenstein drawing dotted lines all over the picture of a naked woman; an action which obviously foreshadows his later work.  When he is caught, the headmaster threatens to beat him but Frankenstein convinces him not to and it’s immediately revealed that Frankenstein is not some sick, antisocial weirdo but a cunning, manipulative and charming young man.  He even has all the young ladies pining for him

It’s also revealed that he’s a sociopath; when his charm doesn’t get him what he wants, he simply kills people.  Thank god forensics and fingerprinting didn’t exist back then or he would have been caught for his little trick of booby trapping his father’s gun so he could inherit his estate and use his dad’s money to go to college.

Ralph Bates does a fantastic job as the morally bankrupt mad scientist who will do anything to get his way.  And it’s good fun watching him move his plan forward to create life from death by various forms of cajolings; it’s pretty amusing his sidekick Wilhelm (Graham James) was so naive that he thought he convinced Frankenstein to stop his experiments by threatening to go to the police only to have Frankenstein kill him.

Basically Frankenstein through the help of a grave robber collects parts to create his monster.  The doctor also finds time for a few casual shack ups with hot as hell house maid/sex worker Alys (Kate O’Marra).  In addition to that, there is a subplot in which a woman named Elizabeth (Veronica Carlson) inexplicably falls in love with Frankenstein only to become his replacement house maid.

And all that is fine and dandy and enjoyable for a time but that does not warrant it taking 66 out of 95 minutes to finally introduce the monster.  Granted, when this happens, the monster does stalk and kill a few people.  It’s not some misunderstood creature; it’s just a mindless killing machine that either works on its own or when the master tells it to.  How it managed to understand English is best left to suspension of disbelief.

The Horror of Frankenstein is a Hammer film through and through with neat looking gothic set pieces, characteristically hammy acting and low-cut, cleavage exposing dresses.  Allegedly it’s supposed to be somewhat of a comedy and, though there were moments of dry humor, including its brilliant ending, it’s still pretty much a monster movie.  My only other complaint aside from its taking forever to show the monster (which kind of resembles Pluto from The Hills Have Eyes) is that the severed limbs looked a little too rubbery at times.

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)



It’s been a month or so since I’ve seen a Hammer horror film.  Unfortunately Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter wasn’t the movie to bring me back into Hammer’s world.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film other than it’s just kind of dull.  The poster promises more than it delivers.  Don’t get me wrong; what you see in the poster is pretty much what happens in the movie but there just isn’t enough of it.

Apparently Brian Clemens’ only directorial effort was supposed to be the start of a series of Captain Kronos films and a story was later adapted into a comic book.  Maybe Hammer should have gotten a more seasoned director like Roy Ward Baker or Terence Fisher.  The movie goes against the typical vampire mythos by having them kill during the day rather than at night.  Also they don’t suck blood and create other vampires by doing so; they suck out the youth from young men and women and turn them old and dead.  The effect actually makes them look like Steven Tyler.

I guess my main problem with this movie is I kept wondering, “Where is Captain Kronos during all of this?  How is this alleged vampire hunter letting so many innocent souls get sucked away?”  Kronos is played by German actor Horst Jansen and is assisted by the hunchbacked doctor Dr. Marcus (John Carsen).  They traverse the countryside supposedly hunting vampires by burying toads in the ground and seeing if they’re alive or dead and if alive, oh who cares?

Kronos frees a cute little lady named Carla (Caroline Munroe) from a wooden rack but who is she?  What did she do?  The only background we are given about her character is that she was being punished for dancing on Sunday.  That’s it.  That’s her entire background.  I really hope Brian Clemens didn’t think, “well, she’s a woman!  What else do you need to know about her?”  Actually he might have been thinking that otherwise why else would her only purpose in the movie be to shack up with Kronos twice.  And she acts as vampire bate, whoopdy do!  I was about to blame Caroline Munroe for being so emotionless and useless but then I realized she didn’t write the character; she was just doing what the director told her to do!

The movie is heavily bogged down with useless subplot; three asshole swordsmen harass people at a local pub and, in one scene, the doctor expresses his gratitude for having such a great friend.  The doctor asks Kronos and Carla, “am I that ugly?”  Carla responds, “you have a kind soul, that’s what’s important.”  Uh, gee thanks…

There’s some blood and way neat looking castle set pieces so I enjoyed *looking* at stuff but as far as entertainment goes, I kept thinking, “can we please pick up the pace, here?”  And, to be perfectly honest, the actor who played Kronos wasn’t exactly a virtuoso either; he basically just held the same smart-ass, “ha! I kill vampires and sleep with hot women” expression the whole time.  So  you know, watch at your own risk, I guess.