Tuesday, January 4, 2011

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (Blu-ray & DVD)

Synapse Films celebrates its 100th release with the long-anticipated digital debut of the 1972 Hammer classic, VAMPIRE CIRCUS - available as a fantastic Blu-Ray/DVD combo.

A lengthy (13-minute) prologue tells of a small village living in fear of Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman, HOUSE OF WHIPCORD), a vampire who preys upon the village's children - and wives. The townspeople finally have enough and stake the Count, then burn his castle to the ground. But, before succumbing, the vampire curses the village. 15 years later, the Count's curse seems to be coming true as the town finds itself dealing with an unknown plague and quarantined by armed roadblocks. Somehow, though, a small circus arrives, and the townsfolk - desperate for some diversion - find themselves entranced by the traveling show, which includes exotic animals, a strongman (Dave Prowse, STAR WARS' Darth Vader), aerialists and erotic dancers. But - and I'm sorry if the title didn't already spoil this for you - the circus is home to a small group of shape-shifting vampires, in town to fulfill Mitterhaus' curse and resurrect the Count himself....

By 1971 Hammer was desperate to pump some new blood into their gothic horrors, and revive box office interest. For VAMPIRE CIRCUS, they recruited a new-to-the-studio crew that included producer Wilbur Stark, writer Judson Kinberg and director Robert Young, three talented filmmakers who crafted a decidedly different kind of Hammer film. Oh, the trappings are there - fangs, buxom starlets, castles and crypts - but there's a very European/art film quality to movie that is unusual for the studio. The eroticism is amped up considerably as well, not so much in the amount of onscreen female nudity (which had already become a staple for the company with films like THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and TWINS OF EVIL), but in terms of sheer kinkiness. Add in some unsettling imagery and non-traditional vampires, and you have a unique horror film that is occasionally a bit clunky, but undeniably fascinating.

Never before available on DVD in the U.S., the Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Synapse Films is well worth the wait. Sporting an uncut, 1.66:1 1080p transfer on the Blu-Ray and anamorphic widescreen on the standard-def disc, VAMPIRE CIRCUS looks fantastic, with rich colors and razor-sharp detail. For its vintage, there's surprisingly little print damage, wear or dirt/debris evident. Audio is a full-sounding DTS-HD 2.0 Mono on the Blu and Dolby 2.0 on the DVD. Both discs also feature an isolated music track for David Whitaker's innovative score.

Both discs also include all the same supplements: three featurettes, including “The Bloodiest Show on Earth: Making Vampire Circus” containing interviews with filmmaker Joe Dante, Hammer documentarian Ted Newsom, British author Philip Nutman and co-star Dave Prowse.  “Gallery of Grotesques: A Brief History of Circus Horrors” has Nutman discussing the history of circus/carnival imagery and themes throughout the history of horror movies. Then there's “Revisiting the House of Hammer: Britain’s Legendary Horror Magazine” a retrospective of the Dez Skinn-edited UK comic magazine. Additional bonus features include a VAMPIRE CIRCUS comic book adaptation illustrated by legendary comics artist Brian Bolland, a still gallery, and the original British theatrical trailer.

For fans of Hammer horror, gothic chillers or genuinely scary vampires, VAMPIRE CIRCUS is highly recommended. The transfer is exceptional, and the extras are genuinely interesting in their own right. Even more exciting is the news that Synapse has a few other rare Hammer titles coming out this year, including TWINS OF EVIL and HANDS OF THE RIPPER!

BUY: Vampire Circus (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) [Blu-ray]