Circus of Fear (1966)
Based on the titles that this film is known as, and the fact that Christopher Lee is in it, many people might assume that Circus of Fear is a horror film. It isn't. It's a fairly straightforward mystery/suspense film. So, if you are looking for horror only, avoid this one. On the other hand, if you are a fan of mystery and suspense, you might like Circus of Fear.
The story is fairly well crafted. A group of professional criminals rob a bank truck on the London Bridge. During the heist, one of them shoots a guard who is trying to escape. This leads to complications that lead the police to a circus. The circus, which has more than its share of troubled personalities, is implicated as the police follow a trail from the robbers, and specifically, the shooter.
The flaws with Circus of Fear come in the telling. I sometimes don't pay enough attention to characters' names and tend to get faces mixed up when it comes to actors I'm unfamiliar with. Partially because of this, amplified by all the twists and turns that this film takes, I had to watch Circus of Fear twice before being confident enough to review it. Since it clocks in at about 1:10, it wasn't a major feat. The second time through, I enjoyed it much more than the first, but I also realized that the confusion wasn't entirely my fault - aside from the direction, the technical aspects of this movie are poor. Many of the edits are rough and some of the dialogue is a bit garbled. The color is terrible. Throughout the film, the color varies from respectable contrasts to black and white to sepia tones. The scenes in the dark are too dark - you frequently can't see the action. All of these factors help make following the plot more difficult. The video transfer I watched was also bad, and dubbed in a slower speed.
Of course, the edits may be the director's fault as well. Maybe not enough footage was shot. Maybe the but cuts in the action are due to the editor trying to disguise bad shots. In any event, crucial scenes are choppy. Too much exposition is left out or breezed over in a millisecond. Of course, this is a whodunit chock full of twists, but too many scenes make no sense until you've watched the whole movie - they seem to come out of nowhere, with no context, and almost play like they decided to ditch the plot and start anew. This almost necessitates a second viewing. Again, second viewings of this movie are almost assured to improve your opinion of it, and even if you watch it immediately after the end of the first viewing (as I did), it doesn't seem repetitious. This is because you understand it all so differently that all scenes occur in a different context - so it's almost like watching a different film the second time.
This might sound too negative to warrant a 6, but again, the story is intriguing, complex and somewhat original - it at least deserves a viewing from serious mystery/suspense fans. The director knows how to compose shots effectively. The score works well. The acting performances are good, including Christopher Lee's, but Lee fans should take note that he's not in the film too much, and when he is, he's under a black hood until 10 to 15 minutes from the end.
Hey, check out that quote on the cover of Blue Underground's DVD. It's from those fine folks at Classic-Horror.com!