Countdown to Halloween: Loey Lockerby on Circus of Fear (1966)
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Loey Lockerby is a "colleague" from the Kansas City Film Critics Circle that offered to participate in the Countdown. I don't know her very well, but would like to remedy that situation because she has an interest in horror films that I sometimes forget. Usually, the Critics Circle members are focused primarily on new films, but Loey has commented on several Classic Horrors posts, making me think we'd have a lot in common. Check out what she has to say at www.suchacritic.com and/or behindthemikes.podomcatic.com. Thanks, Loey!
As a horror movie, Circus of Fear is a pretty good heist movie - at least for the first 20 minutes. In a nearly wordless sequence, a group of London lowlifes robs an armored car. When one of the crooks drives to a rendezvous point in the countryside, he wanders onto an old farm (called, appropriately, the Old Farm). From this point, it would be reasonable to expect some killer clowns, a crazed animal, murderous conjoined twins, anything involving an actual circus with fear in it.
But the dude just gets knifed in the back, and nothing much else happens for the next hour. Technically, there’s a plot, but it’s so convoluted, there must have been eight different screenwriters who never saw each other’s work. A smirking cop (Leo Genn) tries to solve the murder, which seems to involve a member of the traveling circus whose members winter at the farm. Christopher Lee plays one of those members, a lion tamer who wears a hood because he was disfigured years before. Of course, we never see the injuries, because that might scare people.
Klaus Kinski lurks around, too, being his weird Klaus Kinski self. He sounds disconcertingly like Tommy Wiseau, which is hilarious, and his purpose in the story is never clear. The most entertaining thing about his character (besides the accent) is his ability to speak with a cigarette perpetually dangling from his mouth. How he managed not to drop it and start a fire is the film’s greatest mystery.
The other actors at least serve a purpose, even if it’s just to fake out the audience (“Is he the killer? No, maybe it’s her. Nope, she’s dead now, too”). Thank goodness Lee is there to step up everybody’s game. According to his official filmography, he hated Circus of Fear, calling it “an imperial egg,” but he’s magnetic as always, even with his face covered. His subplot, involving blackmail and secret identities, is as inane as the rest, but he does what he can with it.
Lee might have been hopeful about reuniting with John Moxey, who directed him in the 1960 cult classicCity of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel), a wonderfully atmospheric and influential film. Whatever inspiration or creative freedom Moxey possessed on that set was apparently absent on this one. It’s a jumble of styles and influences, none of which blend well, and none of which justify placing Circus of Fear on the Shudder.com lineup, where its menacing cover art tempts viewers with the prospect of something much more exciting.
ABOUT THE COUNTDOWN
We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.
Well, I'm going to cheat a little. Assisting me this year are a number of "guest bloggers" that I've invited to participate by commandeering classichorrors.club for a day. These are all people whose blogs I read, whose podcasts I enjoy, and/or whose existence I simply appreciate. It's an experiment, but I hope you'll enjoy reading some new perspectives.