Circus of Horrors (1960)

Circus of Horrors (1960)

Spectacular Towering Terror! One man’s lust…made men into beasts, stripped women of their souls!

On the run after a botched operation, a deranged plastic surgeon takes over a run down circus with the assistance of two accomplices and proceeds to turn it into one of the star attractions in Europe. He transforms disfigured young women into beautiful circus performers. But when they attempt to leave the clutches of the circus and the obsessed doctor, they begin to meet with deadly accidents in the circus ring.


Wading through the never-ending onslaught of genetically mutated animals, cannibalistic backwoods madman or deranged psychos in masks, it’s always refreshing to go back to an earlier age when horror wasn’t bothered about shock and gore tactics, when there were no “rules” to the genre and when audiences were a lot more scared of the silliest little things. Thankfully there are still an awful lot of films out there that I’ve never heard of and which have gone under the radar for so long, that it’s almost like watching a new release when I eventual get around to see them. I’ve got a lot more time and appreciation for something like Circus of Horrors than I would for something like Shark Zone simply because of the era it was made. Is this the right approach to have? Well watch the two and tell me.

Circus of Horrors is your standard 60s British horror which means lots of dialogue peppered with a few scenes of brutality or gore and the whole thing finishing off rather suddenly. There’s not really a whole load of plot – simply a repeated cycle for most the film which involves the doctor operating on a new victim, turning her into the star of the show and then deciding to terminate her contract when she starts moaning about wanting to leave. There’s padding either side of this involving the wrap around plot with the opening being about the doctor on the run from the law and finally having to face the consequences in the finale. It’s a great finale too with the doctor being chased around his circus and you wonder which of the numerous parties after his blood will get him – the police, the woman he disfigured at the start of the film or his accomplices who have finally grown sick of the murders.

The film isn’t overly graphic in its violence but there are some neat circus-related deaths including a woman fastened to a rotating wheel whilst an Indian throws knives at her (you can guess the rest). I got a bit sick of some of the circus music and at times the film seems to be an advertisement for the real circus that allowed the film crew in to take the stock footage of the acts.

Anton Diffring stars in the lead role and he’s fantastic. He plays the role perfectly with charisma and menace. You can never totally hate him because he believes in what he’s doing and his work becomes his obsession, so much so that he turns into a monster – sort of like the Frankenstein of plastic surgery! Quite how Diffring never really made it big is a mystery but he’s clearly the best thing about the film. Able support comes from the bevy of beauties that he turns from freaks into stunners. And Donald Pleasance is even on hand for a few scenes early on before he’s offed by a really cheap-looking stuffed bear.


There’s not an awful lot more to say about Circus of Horrors except that it’s a solid genre effort from a classic era. Decent story, superbly acted, entertaining, well-paced and violent and moody when it needed to be. Check it out!





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