Vampire Circus

Vampire Circus

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Young
Produced by Wilbur Stark
Michael Carreras
Screenplay by Judson Kinberg
Story by George Baxt
Wilbur Stark
Starring Adrienne Corri
Anthony Higgins
John Moulder-Brown
Lalla Ward
Robin Sachs
Lynne Frederick
Music by David Whitaker
Edited by Peter Musgrave
Distributed by Rank Film Distributors Ltd
(United Kingdom)
20th Century Fox
(United States)
Release dates
30 April 1972
Running time
87 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Vampire Circus is a 1972 British horror film, directed by Robert Young. It was written by Judson Kinberg, and produced by Wilbur Stark and Michael Carreras (who was uncredited) for Hammer Film Productions. It stars Adrienne Corri, Thorley Walters and Anthony Higgins (billed as Anthony Corlan). The story concerns a travelling circus whose vampiric artists prey on the children of a 19th-century Serbian village. It was filmed at Pinewood Studios.


One evening near the small Serbian village of Stetl, early in the nineteenth century, schoolmaster Albert Müller witnesses his lovely wife Anna taking a little girl, Jenny Schilt, into the castle of Count Mitterhaus, a reclusive nobleman rumored to be a vampire responsible for the disappearances of other children. The rumors prove true, as Anna, who has become Mitterhaus' willing acolyte and mistress, hands the innocent Jenny over to him to be drained of her blood. Men from the village, led by Müller and including Jenny's father Mr. Schilt and the Burgermeister, invade the castle and attack the Count. After the vampire kills several of them, Müller succeeds in driving a wooden stake through his heart. With his dying breath, Mitterhaus curses the villagers, vowing that their children will die to give him back his life. The angry villagers then drag Anna outside and force her to run the gauntlet, but when her husband intervenes, she runs back into the castle where the briefly revived Count tells her to find his cousin Emil at "the Circus of Night". After laying out his body in the crypt, she escapes through an underground tunnel as the villagers blow the castle up with gunpowder and set fire to it.

Fifteen years later, Stetl is now being ravaged by a plague and blockaded by the authorities of neighboring towns, with men ready to shoot any villager who tries to leave. The citizens fear that the pestilence may be due to the Count's curse, though the new physician Dr. Kersh scoffs at the notion, dismissing vampires as just a myth. Then a travelling circus calling itself the Circus of Night arrives at the village, led by a dwarf and an alluring gypsy woman who are equivocal about how they got past the blockade. The villagers, appreciative of the distraction from their troubles, do not press the matter. While his courageous son Anton distracts the armed men at the blockade, Dr. Kersh gets past them to appeal for help from the capital. Neither he nor anyone back in the village suspect that one of the circus artists, Emil, is a vampire and Count Mitterhaus's cousin. Emil and the gypsy woman go to the remains of the castle, where in the crypt they find the Count's staked body still preserved, and they reiterate his curse that all who killed him and all their children must die.

At the Circus of Night, the villagers are amazed and delighted by the entertainment. Despite his wife's concerns over their wayward daughter Rosa's physical attraction to the handsome Emil, the Burgermeister takes her to the circus and, at the gypsy woman's invitation, visits the hall of mirrors where he sees in one called "The Mirror of Life", a vision of a revived Count Mitterhaus which causes him to collapse. Frightened by this event, Schilt tries to flee with his family from the blocked village with the circus dwarf Michael as their guide, only to be abandoned by him in the forest to be mauled to death by the circus panther. Müller's daughter Dora, whom he sent away earlier for her protection, has slipped past the blockade and is returning to the village when she discovers the Schilts' dismembered bodies, arousing suspicions about the animals of the circus. Anton, having been deputized by his father to stand in for him, insists that wolves or wild boars are responsible, unaware that several of the circus animals are vampire shapeshifters, including Emil, who is the panther, and twin acrobats Heinrich and Helga. That evening, Jon and his brother Gustav, two village boys whose father Mr. Hauser helped instigate the killing of Mitterhaus, are invited by the gypsy woman to enter the hall of mirrors. While looking in the Mirror of Life, they are magically drawn in by Heinrich and Helga who whisk them to the Count's crypt and drain them. After the boys' bodies are found near the castle, their grieving father and the sick Burgermeister begin to shoot the circus animals. After an encounter with Emil, the Burgermeister dies of heart failure while his daughter runs off with the vampire who then bites and kills the girl.

Dora and Anton, who are in love, are lured by the twins Heinrich and Helga into the hall of mirrors where they try to whisk Dora through the Mirror of Life, but the cross she is wearing saves her. Later, the vampires enter the school house where Dora and Anton have taken refuge. Emil, in panther form, kills the boarding students, diverting Anton while the gypsy woman (now revealed as the twins' human mother by Mitterhaus) tears the cross from Dora's neck, enabling Heinrich and Helga to attack her. Dora, however, escapes into the school chapel, where the twins are overwhelmed by a giant crucifix which she topples on them, destroying them. Nevertheless, with the help of the circus strongman, who being human is impervious to crosses, Emil and the gypsy woman succeed in having Dora kidnapped and taken to the crypt at Castle Mitterhaus. There they extract drops of her blood, which they use with blood left over from the previous child victims as part of a ritual to restore the Count back to life. Meanwhile, Dr. Kersch returns from the capital with an imperial escort and medicines for the plague. He also brings news of vampire killings in other villages, all of them toured by the Circus of Night. The men attack the circus and set fire to it, killing the strongman when he tries to stop them. As Hauser starts to burn down the hall of mirrors, he sees in the Mirror of Life a vision of Emil and the gypsy woman bleeding a helpless Dora over the Count's body. This horrifying sight distracts him long enough to be fatally burned by the fire, though he lives long enough to alert Anton and the other men to Dora's plight.

Back in the castle crypt, the gypsy woman is killed when out of a sudden attack of remorse she attempts to save Dora from Emil. As she falls down dead, the gypsy's face is transformed, revealing her to be Anna Müller. Anton, finding his way through the underground tunnel into the crypt despite a deadly ambush by Michael the dwarf, attempts to rescue Dora but is halted by Emil. When Anton holds the vampire back with a crucifix, an attacking bat summoned by Emil causes him to drop it, placing him at the monster's mercy. Just then Müller, Dr. Kersh, and a soldier break into the crypt and battle Emil, while Anton fends off the bat with a torch as it continues to attack him and Dora. Emil kills or disables all his attackers but Müller, having dropped the crossbow he brought, pierces him with the stake from the Count's chest as he dies. Revived at last, the Count rises from his sarcophagus and advances on Dora and Anton. Then Anton seizes Müller's crossbow which is shaped like a crucifix, repelling the Count long enough for the young man to throw the crossbow over his head and fire an arrow into the vampire's neck, decapitating him. As Dr. Kersh leads Dora and Anton from the tomb, he and the villagers set the ruins alight with torches, ending the curse. Or so they hope, but Dora and Anton see a bat fly out of the tomb into the night and are left uncertain.


Three of the cast – Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri and Lalla Ward – would be reunited in the 1980 season of the British sci-fi/fantasy series Doctor Who in the serial The Leisure Hive. The film also heralded the screen debut of Lynne Frederick, who would later marry comic Peter Sellers. David Prowse, who later played Darth Vader in the first Star Wars trilogy, appears in a silent role as the circus strongman. Robin Sachs would later appear later in his career as a recurring villainous character Ethan Rayne on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the space conqueror Sarris in the science-fiction comedy "Galaxy Quest".

Critical reception

Vampire Circus has been well received by modern critics, and currently holds an 80% approval rating on movie review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[1]

AllMovie called the film "one of the studio's more stylish and intelligent projects".[2] PopMatters also called it "one of the company's last great classics", writing, "erotic, grotesque, chilling, bloody, suspenseful and loaded with doom and gloom atmosphere, this is the kind of experiment in terror that reinvigorates your love of the scary movie artform.".[3]

Critics at the time of its original release weren't quite as impressed. New York Times film reviewer Howard Thompson dismissed it outright without even the courtesy of a proper review in favor of its double-billing Hammer counterpart "Countess Dracula". His curt review measured two sentences, "Wise horror fans will skip 'Vampire Circus' and settle for 'Countess Dracula' on the new double bill at the Forum. Both are Hammer Productions, England's scream factory, but the first was dealt a quick, careless anvil." before continuing with semi-praise for Countess Dracula.[4]


An 'updated' novelization by Mark Morris was published in 2012.[5]

See also


  1. "Vampire Circus - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  2. "Vampire Circus (1971) - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  3. Gibron, Bill (4 February 2011). "One Last Bloody Gasp: 'Vampire Circus' (Blu-ray) < PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  4. "Double Bill of Horror Arrives". New York Times. 12 October 1972. Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  5. Morris, Mark (4 October 2012). Vampire Circus (International ed.). Hammer. p. 352. ISBN 9780099556275. OCLC 797975074.
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