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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Circus of Fear (Universal) (1966)

Circus of Fear (Universal) (1966)

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Released 8-Sep-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1966
Running Time 79:02 (Case: 88)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By John Llewellyn Moxey

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Christopher Lee
Leo Genn
Anthony Newlands
Heinz Drache
Eddi Arent
Klaus Kinski
Margaret Lee
Suzy Kendall
Cecil Parker
Victor Maddern
Maurice Kaufmann
Lawrence James
Tom Bowman
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Johnny Douglas

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    A mail van is robbed by a group of thugs, who have an inside man in the person of the van driver Mason (Victor Maddern). But things go horribly wrong when the guard tries to escape and Mason shoots him. The gang leader consults the boss by telephone, whom he has never seen and whose identity remains a mystery. Via his minion, the boss instructs Mason to take his share and the boss' to a distant location. Meanwhile Inspector Elliott (Leo Genn) is hot on the case, tracing Mason to Barberini's circus.

    As is always the case in these things, the circus includes plenty of suspects. Lion tamer Gregor the Great (Christopher Lee) always wears a hood, ostensibly to hide scars from a clawing by one of his animals. The knife-thrower is in love with Gina (Margaret Lee), who seems to looking for affection elsewhere. "Mr Big" is a sinister midget, Carl (Heinz Drache) is the ringmaster who suspects Gregor of not being what he seems, but he also has designs on Gregor's niece Natasha (Suzy Kendall). The accountant (Eddi Arent) wants to become a clown. Circus owner Barberini (Anthony Newlands) seems to be hiding some secrets. Klaus Kinski is also on hand to provide some menace as one of the gang members.

    This film is a strange conflation of genres. At first, it looks like one of those British gangster films of the 1960s, with a mail van robbery taking up the lengthy pre-credits sequence. Then it becomes a murder-mystery set in a circus milieu. There are influences from films like Freaks, The Unknown, even the Dr. Mabuse films, but none is adequately developed. This seems to be a British-German co-production, and like many in the 1960s is based on a story by Edgar Wallace, the popular mystery writer of the early twentieth century. Films based on Wallace's writings seem to have been popular in Germany in the early 1960s, and Christopher Lee appeared in several such films. The screenplay was written by "Peter Wellbeck", a pseudonym for Harry Allan Towers who produced the Fu Manchu series in which Lee also starred.

    The screenplay does not really make up its mind what it wants to be. The story is rather prosaic despite the surroundings, and the actors seem to struggle to generate any interest. Having Christopher Lee's head covered by a hood for almost the entire film does not help, and Leo Genn slurs a lot of his lines, with his overly avuncular Inspector being barely fleshed out. The revelation when it comes is quite underwhelming. Cecil Parker, though, is amusing in his brief appearances as Sir John, Elliott's superior in the force.

    Overall, a fairly low-grade thriller suitable for diehard Lee fans only. It comes on a double-feature disc coupled with Circus of Horrors which, apart from the similarity of names, is linked only by the inclusion in Circus of Fear of performance footage from the earlier film.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in what seems to be the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    This is a reasonably sharp transfer with an adequate level of detail. Shadow detail is not an issue, and contrast levels are satisfactory, apart from a white sheen at 38:25 and a slight drop in brightness at 11:27. Colour is adequate, though not as vibrant as the companion film on this disc.

    I did not detect any film to video or MPEG artefacts of any note. Film artefacts are quite prevalent. Apart from the seemingly mandatory small white spots and dirt, there are other instances of damage. Being from a projection print, there are reel change markings at 19:03 and 38:45. There seems to be a splice mark at 47:30, and there are several vertical green stripes at around the 48:57 mark. In some scenes there is more grain than I would have liked.

    No subtitles are provided. This is a dual layered disc, with the entire film accommodated on one layer, so there is no layer change during the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

    This transfer is quite disappointing. While the dialogue is audible, there is a lot of distortion and harshness at times. This is especially noticeable on the dialogue at 19:43. There is a lot of crackling, for example at 10:00 and 26:14, plus the occasional pop. Audio sync is poor at times, but this seems to be the result of poor post-dubbing of voices rather than a transfer glitch.

   The jazzy music score is by Johnny Douglas, and is probably better than the film deserves.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Extras? You must be joking!


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The US Region 1 release comes from Blue Underground, and features the following extras not included on the Region 4 disc:

    Based on the reviews I have seen of this release, it sounds as though the transfer may be superior. It also features eight minutes of footage restoring the film back to the original running time (see the Censorship section for details). This tips the balance in favour of the Region 1 release.


    A poor excuse for a thriller.

    The video quality is variable.

    The audio quality is poor.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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