“Now where am I gonna put the three of you”
Sometimes you’re just in the mood for exploitative circus romps or maybe it’s just me. Circus horror is more the stuff of video games and Halloween mazes than films.
One of the few is Terror Circus aka Nightmare Circus. Released in 1974 by CMC Pictures, it is something of an oddity.
The film starts with three girls on their way to Vegas for a showgirls gig, Simone, Sheri, and Corrine. They stop at a last chance gas station and are given directions to a short cut. This does not bode well for our sexy trio as they break down at sunset and are forced to spend the night in the car.
The next morning they are awaken by a guy knocking on the window. Enter Andrew Prine as Andre, our hero? He offers to take the girls to a phone to call for help and drives to his place. He runs inside to “grab something” and the girls explore the front yard. They find a caged mountain lion and are a bit weirded out by it but shrug it off. They see a circus sign and decide to see what is behind door number two. Bad choice.
The circus is located in a barn and the attraction…chained half-crazy women! They turn to escape but too late! Andre has found them, and they aren’t going anywhere! The girls are interned into Andre’s menagerie of captive animals consisting of all women. What follows is a decent into psychological torture and depravity.
Andrew Prine is excellent as always as Andre, the looney head of this circus of the deranged. He gives it his all and his performance is top notch. He is subtle most of the time but there is a real sense of menace and insanity as he watches the girls shower and clean each other.
The girls are all fine as well, especially Manuella Thiess. She is the lynch pin of the film and whose eyes we view the pain and captivity. She is kinda kin to Nancy Hendrickson or Marilyn Burns, a final girl as capable as any other. I say that with a grain of salt though, as her fate is a surprise.
This film is more about esthetics than plot. It has some nice set pieces and scenes but not a strong enough story to tie them together. It has the kind of things you might find in a nightmare circus; a severed head in a bird cage, a monster escaping a locked room, a barn for of mutilated victims and a deranged ringmaster.
Is it good? Not particularly. But it isn’t horrible either. It falls into that category of films that aren’t bad enough to be good and not bad enough to be entirely despised either. It would be best to watch before heading out to a Halloween maze at your local them park, maybe coupled with the memory of a spooky circus themed maze will make it all worth your while.