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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Terror Circus (1973) review


Andrew Prine (Andre), Manuela Thiess (Simone), Sherry Alberoni (Sheri), Gyl Roland (Corrine), Sheila Bromley (Mrs. Baynes), Jennifer Ashley (Flower Child)

Directed by Alan Rudolph

The Short Version: Nasty and revolting no budget sleaze flick belongs to the 'Don't Take the Shortcut' subgenre of gritty horror movies. One could argue this as being an influence on similar movies to come throughout the decade. The violence and degradation towards women ensures this is one of the most repulsive cinematic experiences to ever come out of the daring decade that was the 1970's.

***WARNING! This review contains images of bloody violence & slight nudity***

Three women on their way to Las Vegas end up stranded in the Nevada desert after taking a short cut. They meet a man named Andre on the road who offers them shelter. Upon arriving at his farm, the girls realize Andre is quite mad having lived alone for years on an old army testing site out in the middle of nowhere. He captures the women and subjects them to all manner of degradation using them as "animals" for his bizarre circus. Those who disobey, or attempt to escape are killed by one of Andre's pets, or by the contaminated humanoid creature kept locked in a storeroom nearby.

While it's not very well liked by a lot of horror fans, this grim little movie is one of the most unpleasant pictures of the 1970's. while it never gets too explicit in the nudity and gore department, the unmitigated level of degradation perpetrated towards women is offensive in the extreme. It's yet another example of a director churning out a raw piece of filth before moving on to a career of respectability into mainstream cinema.

One scene in particular is quite striking. It's right after Andre has humiliated his "animals" beating them with a whip when they don't perform to his liking. The girls are all taking a bath while Andre looks on from a corner of the barn with his rifle. Some of the girls are terrified and wounded from the whip lashes. As the camera pans over all the women, some of them are in tears and some of them actually appear content with their situation. No doubt these girls have lost what little sanity they once possessed.

I first saw this movie under the title of NIGHTMARE CIRCUS on the Regal Video label and then later as BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD. Under both titles the movie did little to interest me at the time. However, upon seeing this recent DVD release from Code Red/Media Blasters, the movie looks amazing considering the way it's looked on VHS all these years. I appreciated the films domineering sleaze appeal this time around; it's the type of film that could only come out of the 1970's. Relentlessly misogynistic, what it lacks in over the top gore and excessive nudity, it makes up for it with its off the wall plot borrowing elements of PSYCHO (1960) and even brings to mind THE HILLS HAVE EYES from a few years later.

TERROR CIRCUS wouldn't be half the movie it is if it weren't for the oddball performance of Andrew Prine, a fine actor who alternated from greasy, low budget fat calorie films to leaner and lighter fare safe for family viewing. Prine is garishly over the top as Andre, the psychotic nut job with a mother fixation. Prine became a fixture of 70's exploitation movies and appeared in some of the decades most noteworthy trash. Titles such as SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES (1971), THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974), GRIZZLY (1976) and THE EVIL (1978).

Aside from the discovery of a severed head in a cage and the killing of a couple of hunters who stray to close to the farm, the bulk of the gore doesn't come until the end when Andre's deformed, nuclear irradiated father escapes from the small shed he's locked up in. Once he's out, he goes on a rampage butchering everyone in sight. Sadly, the ending originally had a much higher level of gore, but censors ordered cuts to be made to secure an 'R' rating. Apparently, this footage is no longer in existence. Still, it works just fine as is.

While it will never be mistaken for a good movie, Code Red and Media Blasters should be commended for salvaging another sordid example of 70's sinema and giving it a face lift. A year prior to this DVD release, Johnny Legend's Legend House outfit released a non licensed edition of this film under the BARN title. Incidentally, Code Red's release had already been announced. Potentially harming this legit release of its already limited appeal, the Legend House DVD (looking like it's from a VHS source) has yet to be removed from the market. The only feature that film has this licensed release doesn't is an interview with Andrew Prine. The Code Red edition features interviews with other cast and crew as well as other features.

It may not appeal to the crowd that's accustomed to the more flashy halcyon Hollywood horror fluff, but those with a penchant for no budget nuggets possessing grim subject matter should give it a look. Fans of Andrew Prine will surely want to add this to their collection. He's at his most insane here. More for exploitation lovers than the casual horror fan, TERROR CIRCUS isn't the most ghoulish show on Earth, but an act worth seeing at least once.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD


Rusty James said...

That old freak doing the jig in the barn is a real beauty of a shot. Gorgeous.

venoms5 said...

I bought this just to be buying it and I'm glad I did. I didn't like it the first couple times I saw it on those color faded VHS tapes. This DVD version from Code Red looks a lot better and the movie itself is better than I remembered it being.

Rusty James said...

Remind me, but is there anything contemporary out there that 'deals' with the exploitation of women like these 70's films?

They all kinda descend into torture, but (correct me if I'm wrong) fail to touch on the sexual exploitation of women.

Strange considering girls are sexualized at such a young age now compared to any other time in recent memory.

venoms5 said...

Nothing actually comes to mind right now. I haven't seen the LAST HOUSE remake, but I suppose the upcoming I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake may explore that area.

I Like Horror Movies said...

This is another one I have been interested in seeing for quite some time. Sounds simply depraved, which can be hit or miss for me. LIVE ANIMALS is a veritable remake of the film based on the plot you described, minus the awesome. Will be sure to grab the Code Red disc V!

venoms5 said...

I've not heard of that one, Carl. Looking into it now. Looks and sounds about the same as you said.

Rusty James said...

RE: exploitation of women.

Not to take the fucking discussion to retarded heights, but seeing PIRANHA 3-D tonight, I (and who wouldn't) noticed all the ladies being called 'bitches', and 'whores' - obviously a set-up - but there was little pay-off 'cuz the girls were getting it right after the dudes - no justice!

And don't get me wrong Ven, I'm not sum kinda asshole (give me ten minutes) but just saying, it'd be more dynamic if a dude called a girl a 'whore' and he died violently and then she went on to find religion!

Perfect world...

/didn't even know how to spell religion.

You know what I'm saying?

I'm hosed.

venoms5 said...

Yeah, I know what you mean, MB, lol. Hopefully I'm gonna get to see PIRANHA 3D tomorrow.

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