Film Reviews:

Circus of Horrors

aka Phantom of the Circus

(Sidney Hayers, UK, 1960)

[Circus of Horrors DVD sleeve]In which Billy Smart's Circus adds a serial killer to its list of attractions. Well, okay, it's Schuler's Circus. But it does feature loopy plastic surgeon Anton Diffring using Donald Pleasance's circus as a front for taking in criminals on the run who need to disguise themselves from the police. Quicker than you can think cheesy "World's Worst Plastic Surgery" TV show, Anton convinces them that they need a little nip and tuck and that he's just the mad doctor for the job. Anton hopes that as he refines his technique he can transform his disfigured daughter back into the beauty she once was. There is one major problem with this plan. Anton was struck off the medical register; and with good reason... let's just say 'Michael Jackson's nose'. His clients, understandably are none to chuffed about this and a dispute over quality of service ends with the dodgy doc destroying the evidence - by killing his patients. Repeat this pattern for 90 minutes with inquisitive but slow police officers popping in occasionally to ask difficult questions.

The basic premise is a strong one and rich with exploitation potential. Sadly both the weak script and Sidney Hayers' directing lack imagination as to where to take the initial idea. The result quickly becomes repetitive and the increasingly dull circus scenes are clearly only there to pad out the underdeveloped script. However, Pleasance does (as ever) offer good value for money, delivering a captivating, if all too sidelined, performance as the unhinged circus owner.

Anton Diffring continues to struggle shaking off his typecast Nazi image as director Hayers insists on putting him in jack boots, jodhpurs and a black shirt! Perhaps by way of compensation, Diffring does get plenty of opportunity to eye a series of buxom, leggy beauties, attempting to lure them into his warped world. It probably sounds better than it is, but if you're a fan of either Pleasance or Diffring and you've a spare afternoon then its might be worth your effort. Otherwise best confined to the 'great potential idea wasted' pile. 5/10

Rob Dyer (November 2005)

See also:
Carnival of Terror
Killer Klowns from Outer Space

A-Z of Film Reviews