Circus of Horrors (1960) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Without the proper historical perspective, it is very difficult to understand why this film exists.

Taken on the surface, it is a grade-b film about a plastic surgeon who gets in trouble in England and has to flee to France. He does what I think all doctors do when the law is on their tail - he joins the circus. Luckily for him, it is post-war France, the owner of the circus has a daughter who was disfigured by a bomb, and Mr Evil Surgeon knows how to do the skin grafts. The surgeon turns the daughter into a beautiful girl, and he's in like Flynn with the Big Top.

After the bandages are removed, the irritating little girl runs around for about five minutes, over-enunciating "I am beau-ti-ful". She tells every person she knows, the trained bear, the gorilla, the elephant, and Charles de Gaulle. That used up a good portion of the running time, right there. The little girl says, "look, Simba, I am beau-ti-ful", and they cut to stock footage of an elephant. Repeat with dozens of additional animals, all of whom roar or squawk their approval in stock footage, including President de Gaulle, who waves to her in approval.

Mr Evil Surgeon gets the circus signed over to him as a silent partner, then kills the former owner, thus becoming the unsilent partner. On the other hand, the dead guy was then well-suited to replace him as the silent one.

He then proceeds to build the circus back up to greatness by recruiting disfigured women. He finds prostitutes with facial scarring, makes them beautiful, and then turns them into indentured circus labor. Amazingly, they all turn out to be gifted circus performers of one kind or another. But if one of them tries to leave, he kills her in some way designed to look like an accident. 


The tag line said "he strips women of their souls", although I'd have preferred if he left their souls intact and simply removed their bras instead. 

After he knocks off a few dozen women with identical backgrounds, the French gendarmes start to think there might be something suspicious afoot, and discuss the possibility of an investigation. They promise themselves to investigate if another twenty or thirty bodies turn up in identical circumstances. Then they have some coffee and smoke many Galoises and discuss murder philosophically.

Many circus acts are shown at great length, and the background to every single circus act is the same song - over and over - a cheesy and irritating faux Bobby Vinton song. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.77:1

  • some original posters and ads, and the theatrical trailer

You are wondering why anybody ever went to see this? In 1960, this would have been a very edgy film in terms of sexuality and violence. One woman is shown with a knife through her neck. The evil surgeon maintains a dominant and clearly sexual relationship with all the women he rescues. One woman is even seen on top of him with her bra off! All of them appear in circus bikinis in lush color. (Remember that grade-b movies were not often in color in 1960, and that even great movies continued to appear in B&W through the sixties.) 

To watch this film now is an experience in confusion, but believe me, in 1960, this was some hot and violent action. At that time, the British were churning out shockers about insane guys obsessed with physical deformity, voyeurism, and murder. The same year also produced Horror of the Black Museum and Peeping Tom, both of which had similar themes. 

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 2.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.0 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Quaint period horror film which demonstrates what a good exploitation movie looked like in 1960.

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