Part of the reason for Vampire Circuss effectiveness may simply be that it had none of the regular personnel involved it was made almost entirely by new faces. Theres no Terence Fishers, Roy Ward Bakers, Anthony Nelson Keys or Michael Carrerass present behind the scenes; no Christopher Lees, Peter Cushings, Michael Goughs, Michael Rippers, Ralph Batess, Ingrid Pitts, Veronica Carlsons present in the cast the only cast members who even appeared in another Hammer film before were Thorley Walters who had a supporting part as the Renfield equivalent in Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966) and had been in two Hammer Frankenstein films, Dave Prowse who had previously been the monster in The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and Adrienne Corri who played a small part as a Lunar cop in Moon Zero Two (1969). Indeed, none of the directing, writing and producing crew ever worked for Hammer again following Vampire Circus Robert Young did direct an episode of the Hammers House of Horrors (1980) tv series but that is it. Certainly, there are some interesting names on the credits that did go on to play roles in other things the mute strongman is played by Dave Prowse who a few years later became the body of Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977) and the first two sequels; while one of the vampire twins is played by Lalla Ward who went onto play the second incarnation of Romana in tvs Doctor Who (1963-89) and to marry the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker.
Vampire Circus has a fine opening that was all about what Hammer was trying to market itself as at the time a young, handsome sexy vampire count; naked women; a dash of sadism (a woman flogged by the villagers); a dash of gore (throats slit, the vampire staked); and of course conservative tradition symbolically asserted at the end, along with the promise of the vampires resurrection and revenge. It is a very lively opening that bodes well for the rest of the film. What follows at times resembles Ray Bradburys Something Wicked This Way Comes (1963). (See the film version Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) for details). Both Vampire Circus and Something Wicked This Way Comes feature a sinister circus come to town to prey upon the innocent villagers where the performers are supernatural in origin. Both also feature halls of distorting mirrors that are more than they seem, as well as the characters of two boys who sneak away to the circus and get in trouble. Where Bradbury gets sentimental about some kind of lost smalltown America and his vision of evil is traditional, Vampire Circus presents a much more sensual and lasciviously threatening vision of evil indeed, what Vampire Circus draws upon is the image from the original Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958) of the vampire as a primal, sexual threat who sways with a charismatic magnetism.
The circus performances are imbued with a fantastique magic and lush eroticism the tamer and his dancer, a nude woman who is body painted as a tiger and lithely prowls around him in a strikingly erotic dance; a black panther leaping through the air and in an effective stop-action cut transforming into the swarthily handsome Anthony Corlan who approaches a girl with piercing intent; bats fluttering through the air and gracefully transforming into twin brother-sister tumblers; spooky scenes with the twins appearing both in and out of a mirror, before the reflections drag the victims inside the mirror with them. The effects are all conducted through the use of simple stop-action effects. Certainly, compared to todays CGI transformations, some of the stop-action transformations and particularly the bat effects look shoddy, but held a genuine sense of evocative fantastique at the time the film was made. The latter third or so of Vampire Circus travels in traditional Hammer directions with the villagers combating the circus people, staking the vampire menace, restoring the status quo and so on but for a time Vampire Circus does craft something imaginative out of the staple Hammer elements.
(Review copy provided by Kathy Tipping)