Everybody knows Hammer Horror, right? They were a mainstay of 70s British horror. The first thing you probably think of is Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as Dracula and Van Helsing, it’s a classic combo! I especially adore Dracula A.D. 1972 for its crazy 70s twist on the character. And yet, I would argue Vampire Circus is more creative and fun to watch. Hear me out, okay? You can even watch it for free on Tubi.
Rather than your typical Dracula adaptation, this movie builds its own vampire family lore. It begins with Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), who lives in a castle outside of the town of Stetl in what can loosely be described as the 19th century. The town tires of him seducing women and eating children, so they decide to attack with torches and some pretty nice pyrotechnics. Piercing his heart with a stake, the Count’s last words are to swear vengeance against the town. His human lover, Anna (Domini Blythe), hides his body and flees. 15 years later, the townsfolk are suffering from an unknown plague and superstitiously blame it on the murder of the Count., while the local doctor seeks a rational explanation. The town has been placed under quarantine, so anyone who attempts to leave is shot and misery abounds.
Somehow, a circus makes its way into town, with its leader “Gypsy Woman” (Adrienne Corri) laughingly declaring that that they have “come to steal the coins from the eyes of the dead”. Their act is a delight to all, as the townspeople return every night even as some of their number start to disappear. Interestingly, the performers are not just vampires, they include humans like a little person barker, Michael (Skip Martin) and a mute strongman (David Prowse) as well as the mysterious Gypsy Woman. Rather than just bats, the vampires can transform into a variety of exotic animals. Emil (Mitterhaus’ brother), for example spends most of his time as a black panther when not seducing women in his sparkly collar and pink blouse. The circus performances are all beautifully shot. The plot is pretty thin, but nice visuals (especially a bit with a magic mirror) are enough to keep a viewer engaged. Of course, it helps that the main characters are all incredibly gorgeous. I was totally surprised by how fun this film was.