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Film / Circus of Fear

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Circus of Fear (a.k.a. Circus of Terror, a.k.a. Psycho-Circus) is a 1966 British mystery/thriller film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, starring Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, and Victor Maddern.

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.

Circus of Fear contains examples of:

  • And This Is for...: At the climax, Mario throws knives to create a Knife Outline around the killer. As he throws each knife, he says "This is for..." and names one of the killer's victims.
  • Animal Assassin: The killer lets loose the temperamental lioness Sheba in hopes that she will kill Gina. Gina is only saved by the arrival of Gregor.
  • Armed Blag: The film opens with a armoured car being robbed on London Bridge.
  • Berserk Button: Mario goes into a nigh-murderous rage if someone, usually a man, so much as talks to Gina. To say nothing of what he'll do if anyone endangers her life.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Mason arrives at the circus carrying a suitcase containing a quarter of a million pounds. After he is murdered, Gregor finds the case and keeps moving about the circus is an effort to keep it hidden.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Mario's Knife-Throwing Act keep the killer from escaping after his identity is revealed.
  • Circus of Fear: Right there in the title.
  • Cool Mask: The mysterious lion-tamer Gregor wears a full face mask to conceal the scars he received from a lion attack years before. It serves to heighten the air of mystery that surrounds the character.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy. Mario is a hotblooded knife-thrower who flies into a rage if his fiancee Gina even talks to another man.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Otto, Natasha's father, has secretly returned from South Africa, and has taken the place of his dead brother Gregor. Fortunately, Gregor had suffered suffered severe facial injuries that meant he wore a full face mask whenever he was in public.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Mr. Big is a snoop, a blackmailer, and has sexual designs on Natasha: at one point considering blackmailing Gregor for access to Natasha instead of money.
  • Disappearing Box: Eddie uses one as part of his ongoing campaign to become a clown. No one is very impressed, but he does use it to play an elaborate practical joke on Mr. Big.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Jackson's van explodes into flames several seconds after hitting a tree.
  • Fiery Cover Up: The killer sets fire to the barn where he murdered Manfred to conceal the crime, and possibly destroy the stolen cash. Alternatively, they might have been hoping that the fire would spook Gregor into revealing the money's location.
  • The Film of the Book: Loosely adapted from the 1928 novel Again the Three Just Men by Edgar Wallace.
  • Hand of Death: For much of the film, the killer is seen only as a gloved hand.
  • Hand Stomp: When Gregor is left Hanging by the Fingers from the clifftop, the killer arrives and slowly and maliciously grinds his foot down on Gregor's hands till he falls.
  • Hanging by the Fingers: While attempting to escape from the police with the cash, Gregor falls of a cliff. He drops the suitcase and is left cling to the cliff by his fingers. The killer arrives and treads on his fingers.
  • His Name Is...: The mortally wounded security guard attempts to whisper some information to Inspector Elliot, but only manages some gagging sounds before expiring. Exactly what the guard intended to tell Elliot remains a mystery.
  • Knife Outline: Mario creates as a knife outline around the killer when his identity is exposed in the climax.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: The final denouement occurs in front of the assembled suspects during a knife-throwing act.
  • Knockout Gas: The gang throw a knockout gas grenade into the security car trailing the armoured van during the Armed Blag on the Tower Bridge.
  • Please Keep Your Hat On: The lion tamer Gregor always wears a black silk hood to conceal the scars he received from a lion attack years before. This also allows his brother Otto to take his place without anyone noticing the substitution.
  • Shoot the Rope: Mario uses a thrown knife to cut through the rope ladder the killer is using to attempt to escape.
  • Silence is Golden: The opening five minutes of the film has no dialogue.
  • Stocking Mask: Worn by the crooks when they pull the Armed Blag on Tower Bridge at the start of the film.
  • Summation Gathering: Inspector Elliot gathers all of the circus folk in the centre ring for The Summation.
  • Tap on the Head: At the start of the film, Manfred knocks out the bridge keeper with a simple blow to the back of the head. Shortly after, the security guard does the same to one of the crooks as he makes is ill-fated escape attempt.
  • Zip Me Up: Gina asks her unseen (and silent) lover to finish zipping up her costume for her before she goes on for the last show before the circus closes for the winter.