“Circus of Horrors” was a 1960 cult British horror film directed by Sidney Hayers. The movie was the third of the “Sadian Trilogy“, focusing on sadism, cruelty and violence as opposed to the supernatural horror of the Hammer films from the same era. The previous two were “Horrors of the Black Museum” and “Peeping Tom”, both made in 1959.
In “Circus of Horrors,” which is set in England in 1947, a Dr. Rossitor, (played by Anton Diffring) is a plastic surgeon who beats a hasty retreat to France when one of his patients suffers ghastly problems with her surgery. Once there, he operates on a circus owner’s daughter, who was deformed by bombs from the war. However, believing himself to have brilliant abilities as a surgeon, he and his assistants (Kenneth Griffith and Jane Hylton), evade capture and escape to the Continent, where Rossitor changes his name to Dr. Schüler, who becomes a man who manipulates his way into running a circus, taking it over when the owner dies in a “freak accident.”
- A decade later, he is running an internationally successful circus, which he uses as a front for his surgical exploits.
- He befriends deformed women and transforms them for his “Temple of Beauty.“
- However, when these women threaten to leave, they meet with mysterious “freak accidents” which raises the suspicion of a local policeman, (played by Conrad Phillips), who soon becomes ‘hot on the trail’ of these activities.
- Before you know it, Scotland Yard and media reporters become interested when the women who want out of the circus begin dying in the “freak accidents”, and they begin suspecting the good doctor is responsible.
The film was shot at the Beaconsfield Studios, in Buckinghamshire, with location filming at both Clapham Common in London and in Old Amersham, in Bucks. Its cinematographer was Douglas Slocombe. To provide an ‘air of authenticity’, Billy Smart’s Circus, which was a real circus entity, provided the ‘Big Top’ and some of Smart’s performers appeared as extras.
The musical score was provided by Franz Reizenstein and Muir Mathieson. Its signature ‘hit’ song was “Look For A Star,” which was popular in 1960 and although several versions were released; the greatest success came from Deane Hawley’s version which penetrated the Minnesota market with a modicum of success. The following are some of the lyrics:
“A rich man, a poor man, a beggar
No matter whoever you are
There’s a friend who’s waiting to guide you
Look for a star.”
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