Saturday, October 30, 2010


Just after WWII, Dr. Rossiter, a plastic surgeon, changes his name to Schuler and goes on the run from England to France after Evelyn, a woman he operates on, winds up with a permanently disfigured face and the police are called in. He and his assistants (Angela, with whom Schuler seems to be on-again/off-again romantically involved, and her intense brother Martin) come upon a rundown roadside circus. The owner's daughter was badly scarred in a bombing, and when Schuler operates successfully on her, the grateful father lets Schuler into the circus business. However, when a bear mauls the owner, Suchler lets him die and takes over the circus. Ten years later, the circus is a success, largely because Schuler operates on female criminals and prostitutes, changing their appearance and giving them jobs with the circus. There's just one catch: when any of the women try to leave, they wind up dead, usually due to what appears to be an unfortunate accident in the ring. This leads to a reputation as a jinxed circus, but also to widespread popularity. In the latest incident, busty blond Magda wants to leave, and is killed when a knife-throwing act goes horribly wrong (planned by Schuler and Martin). The police investigate but cannot stop another death of another busty blond, this time during an acrobatic exhibition. Finally, Evelyn, Rossiter's botch-job from ten years ago, shows up at the circus and the game is almost over.

The plot is promising, but there is almost too much of it, the result being that some characters and plot points of interest (the original circus owner, played by Donald Pleasance, and the odd relationship between Martin and Angela) are ignored for the sake of exposition. Still, the big top deaths are all staged effectively and tensely, though none quite tops the first one, with the knife thrower--it's rather bloody for 1960 (though that year also produced the bloody Psycho and Peeping Tom). The German actor Anton Diffring is good in the lead role, and Kenneth Griffith makes a fine Martin, even though he isn't given enough to do. As for the string of busty circus performers, Yvonne Romain makes the, er, biggest impression as Melina, the one Diffring intends to marry. Interesting as a relic of its time, when horror films, especially those made overseas, were beginning to stretch the envelope of how much gore was acceptable onscreen. [TCM]

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