Just got through with Media Blasters and Code Red’s new DVD of Terror Circus (1974). Also known as Barn of the Naked Dead, Nightmare Circus and Caged Women, Terror Circus is an interesting mishmash of drive-in trash and surprisingly competent filmmaking.
The plot concerns three female entertainers who breakdown on their way to Las Vegas. They are abducted by Andre, a Norman Bates-esque psycho with aspirations to run the “greatest trained animal show of all time”….with his animals being the girls.The girls are chained up with the rest of his menagre and must withstand Andre’s insane training regimen if they want to escape. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, aside from the women, cougars and boa constrictors Andre also keeps his nuclear-accident-deformed-monster father locked in a toolshed(?!?!?!?!).
The whole thing is a lot more downbeat than it sounds. Heavy on misogyny (there is a laughable attempt at the beginning to add a dash of feminism to the mix by having one of the girls say “He wants to own us. Like all men.”) Terror Circus is best when not taken too seriously. Paradoxically the film has rather low levels of sex and gore (on the special features it is revealed that there was originally more gore, but it’s sadly been lost).
On the plus side is Andrew Prine(Simon, King of the Witches), a veteran T.V. and character actor who gives a really solid performance as Andre. Director Alan Rudolph elevates the whole affair by supplying some certifiably striking images and creepy sequences.
The transfer for the DVD is spectacular. The producers of this disc should really be commended for their efforts. They give a B-movie A-list treatment here: detail is high, grain is minimal and colors are vibrant. There is also a commentary by the FX guys and a half hour featurette put together with both on-camera and audio interviews. Sadly neither Prine nor Rudolph show up on the featurette(can you believe they don’t want to be associated with this classy production?), but those that do have nothing but good things to say about them.
The whole film seems a bit padded and disjointed, but I would say it’s worth a look if you are a serious trash-cinephile.
EXTRA BONUS ENTRY:
You can now read my story “Have a Little Faith” on Flashes in the Dark. Head over there to take a look and be sure to leave something in the comments section (love it or hate it: I want to know).
In related horror fiction news you should also check out Necrography. They just came out with their first issue and it’s well worth your money. Click the banner:
Quick what’s your favorite computer animated movie? In all likelihood your answer came from Pixar.
When studios try to make these kinds of films Pixar’s shadow is inescapable. Dreamwork’s animated output ranges from “A- for effort” (Shrek and Kung Fu Panda) to nearly unwatchable (I’m looking at you Madagascar!) but their entire oeuvre all caries the stigma of “well that was OK but it was no Toy Story….or The Incredibles….or Wall-E, etc.”
The studio’s latest offering is Monsters Vs. Aliens, a 3D riff on the monster movies of yesteryear . There are nods to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Fly, Godzilla vs. Mothra, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It has the great voice cast that seems to come standard with this type of picture (Stephen Colbert as the President: inspired if a bit underutilized). It also has animation that rivals anything being put out by their competitors, but Monsters vs. Aliens is still missing that secret Pixar ingredient: heart. It may sound odd but I was genuinely looking forward to this movie. It has a great premise but it seems wasted on a by the numbers family comedy. No doubt kids will love it, but the best part about Pixar’s films is that their parents do too.
Detractors aside, the film is by far my favorite of the Dreamworks efforts, but that really isn’t saying much. It has some laughs and some solid action, it’s a good time waster especially if you’re a young’n, but lacks all of the artistic punch of a Pixar film.
Monsters Vs. Aliens is a step in the right direction, but with Pixar poised to release its first 3D offering it’s looking less and less likely that the Disney-backed colossus can ever be bested.
For years the only way to get Dario Argento’s “lost” film Four Flies on Grey Velvet was through some very shady bootleg avenues. A couple of years ago I finally broke down and bought a copy from a dealer at a horror convention (anyone who has ever attended one can attest to my use of the word “shady” above). The transfer was so awful I only made it about five minutes, ten bucks down the drain.
Years later-lo and behold- Argento’s lost Giallo is found. For the uninitiated the Italian Giallo subgenre is a prognosticator of the American slasher boom. Black gloved killers, convoluted plots that often defy even the most basic logic: they’re basically horror movies with a heavy mystery element.
As examples of the genres go there are far better films than Four Flies on Grey Velvet; that said it’s not without its charm. The plot is more often than not nonsensical in this type of film but the gist is a musician is blackmailed by a masked killer over his involvement in an accidental death. By the time the movies is over there will be a couple more murders, psyched out slow-motion dream sequences, and a flamboyantly gay private detective thrown in for comic relief.
There are really only two scenes that stand out in this fairly bloodless and mediocre film but boy are they good. The first is a riff on the classic “staircase murder” from Hitchcock’s Psycho, and the second is a beautiful slow-motion car wreck that is utterly spoiled by an insert shot of a rather lame looking severed head. Also in the plus column is an Ennio Morricone score that sounds like a cross between the Get Carter soundtrack and Ringo Starr on meth…hard to believe that can be a good thing, but it is.
For a movie that was thought lost by many the DVD (put out by mya communications) has very good picture quality. Some grain is present but it is certainly far better than the VHS dupes making there way around the convention circuit.
For Argento completists the film is a refreshing look back at a maestro who has lost his way (Mother of Tears anyone? Didn’t think so) while still being a lesser work. For Giallo diehards there are a couple of scenes of note, plus the bonus of an extra-implausible conclusion. For everyone else Four Flies on Grey Velvet offers nothing.
To those curious of the Giallo subgenre I suggest as good starting points Argento’s Deep Red, Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in A Woman’s Skin or—my personal favorite—Luciano Ercoli’s Death Walks at Midnight.
Not all my entries on films are going to be this long; it’ll probably fluctuate greatly with my mood.