Circus of Horrors is a 1960 British horror film directed by Sidney Hayers. It stars Anton Diffring, Yvonne Monlaur, Erika Remberg, Kenneth Griffith, Jane Hylton, Conrad Phillips, Yvonne Romain and Donald Pleasence.
In 1940s England, Dr. Rossiter (Anton Diffring) is a plastic surgeon wanted by the police after an operation goes hideously wrong. 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. There Rossiter changes his name to Schüler, and befriends a circus owner (Donald Pleasence) on whose deformed daughter Nicole (played by Carla Challoner as a child, Yvonne Monlaur as an adult) he operates.
Schüler manipulates his way into running the 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 they threaten to leave, they meet with mysterious accidents which raise the suspicions of local police (Conrad Phillips among them), who are soon on his trail.
This film was riffed for Mystery Science Theater 3000's "Great Cheesy Movie Circus" tour.
Tropes used in Circus of Horror:
- The Alcoholic: Vanet is steadily drinking himself to death as his circus slowly dies around him. It's what leads to his death; he tries to drunkenly dance with a circus bear and winds up accidentally enraging it when he drops and shatters a wine glass, causing the shards to jam into its paws and sending it into a fury.
- Animal Assassin: Schüler attempts to murder Elsa by releasing a boa constrictor in her caravan.
- Bad People Abuse Animals: Dr. Schüler delights in goading the various animals in the circus by poking them with the crop he carries with at all times. This eventually comes back to bite him when he gets badly clawed.
- Car Fu: At the end of the film, Evelyn takes revenge of Rossiter by running him down.
- Chairman of the Brawl: Rossiter smashes a chair down on Ames during their fight in Nicole's tent.
- Chastity Dagger: Elsa is first introduced as a prostitute. She conceals a stiletto down her cleavage that she uses to stab her client and steal his wallet.
- Circus of Fear: A plastic surgeon must beat a hasty retreat to France when one of his patients has ghastly problems with her surgery. Once there, he operates on a circus owner's daughter, deformed by bombs from the war. Later he becomes the owner of the circus, and continues transforming disfigured women into the beautiful stars of his show. The police and a nosy reporter (as well as Scotland Yard) become interested when the women who want out of the circus begin dying in freak accidents, and they begin suspecting the good doctor is responsible.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: When Dr. Rossiter's car runs off the road, it catches fire before it even collides with anything. Even more bizarrely, the fire seems to start in the back seat, rather than the engine or any of the other places one would expect a car to burst into flames.
- High-Class Glass: Magda's aristocratic boyfriend the Count sports a monocle.
- Ignored Enamored Underling: Rossiter's nurse Angela is in love with him and stays with him through his years on the run because of this. The egotistical Rossiter is completely unaware of her feelings. When he announces that he is going to marry Melina, she finally snaps and leaves him.
- It's All About Me: The only thing that Elsa cares about is being a star. She becomes consumed with envy any time another woman is billed higher than her, and does not care that Schüler is murdering women who try to leave, so long as she remains the star. This drives the final act, where his constant ignoring of her leads her to threaten to blackmail him to the authorities. After another murder job goes wrong, she tries to make good on her threat, which inadvertendly triggers the chase that leads to Schuler's ultimate death.
- Killer Gorilla: While fleeing from Rossiter, Martin releases a gorilla from its cage that subsequently chases and attacks Rossiter.
- Knife-Throwing Act: Schüler disposes of Magda by sabotaging the Wheel of Death while she is acting as target girl in the knife-throwing act.
- Laughing Mad: When Evelyn sees the botched job Rossiter has made of her face, she goes mad and starts laughing hysterically.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Any woman who tries to leave the circus, suffers an 'accident' while performing, courtesy of Schüler.
- Mad Doctor: Rossiter/Schüler is obsessed with perfecting his revolutionary plastic surgery techniques.
- Repulsive Ringmaster: Dr. Schüler is a Mad Doctor who is running Schüler's Circus as a cover for his plastic surgery experiments. He is also needlessly cruel to the circus animals. It should be noted, however, that while Dr. Schüler is the owner and manager of the circus, he is not the ringmaster. The actual ringmaster is a decent fellow who is completely unaware of Schüler's nefarious activities.
- Roadside Surgery: Dr. Rossiter insists he can perform delicate facial surgery on the kitchen table of a circus caravan. As it turns out, he's right. Much later, he guides Angela and Martin through performing a similar procedure on his own face in a similar location.
- Self-Surgery: After his face is badly clawed by a lion, Dr. Schüler has his assistants Martin and Angela operate on his face under a local anaesthetic so he can talk them through the procedure
- Sexy Silhouette: When Inspector Ames is searching the circus for Nicole, he sees her silhouette going through her limbering up routine projected on to the wall of of her tent.
- She Is All Grown Up: A ten year Time Skip allows Nicole to transform from a tomboyish child to a glamorous and sexy equestrian.
- Signature Item Clue: Evelyn realizes that Dr. Schüler is really Dr. Rossiter when she sees him wearing the distinctive ring that Dr. Rossiter always wore.
- Streetwalker: Elsa is a streetwalker when Rossiter first encounters her. The scar on her face and the ruthlessness with which she stabs her client and steals his wallet convinces him that she is perfect for his needs, and she becomes the first disfigured woman he recruits for the circus.
- Sword Cane: Schüler has a blade concealed inside the crop he always carries. He uses it in an attempt to kill Ames.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: When working as a prostitute, Elsa carries a stiletto down her cleavage.