Anton Diffring is a crazed plastic surgeon whose unauthorized operation severely fucks up a woman’s face. Afterwards, he gets the fuck out of Dodge, gives himself a new face and runs away with the circus ran by Donald Pleasence. Anton easily wins his friendship when he performs a miracle operation on Pleasence’s badly scarred daughter’s face. After Pleasence gets mauled by a bear and dies, Anton gains control of the circus and quickly sets up shop giving scarred female criminals new faces while using the big top as a front. The fresh faced criminals start a new life by performing in the circus and whenever they threaten to leave, Diffring makes sure they die by having an “accident”. One girl gets stuck in the neck when her knife throwing act goes wrong. A trapeze girl gets her rope cut and plummets to her death, and another chick gets mauled by lions. In the end, Diffring’s former patient with the severely fucked up face recognizes him while attending the circus and gets so crazy that she runs him over with her car.
I hate circuses and think they’re pretty stupid in general, so a lot of the circus performances were kinda tough for me to sit through. The pacing is also quite irregular and you have to sit through a lot of circusy bullshit to get to the good stuff. Luckily, the good stuff is quite good. The opening scene is really strong and the reveal of the woman’s fucked-up face is shocking (for the time at least). The scenes where the snarky women meet horrible fates under the big top are also well done and feature more blood than you’d expect.
The best thing about Circus of Horrors though is the special effects. The make-up effects on the women’s deformed scarred faces are all excellent and still hold up well almost 50 years after the film's release. The effects for the killer bear are decidedly less impressive as it’s obviously just a stuffed bear that falls on top of Pleasence.
Speaking of ol’ Donald, he gives a good performance here as the drunken circus owner. But it is Diffring who steals the show. He’s great as the conniving mad doctor who isn’t above feeding someone to a wild animal if they get in his way. The chicks are also very hot too and it’s a shame that this flick wasn’t released a decade later as they probably could’ve been convinced to pop their tops. (Although you can almost make out that one girl’s rack during her shower scene.)
AKA: Phantom of the Circus.