The new issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, devoted to Hammer’s Vampire Circus, courtesy of the fine folk at Hemlock Books arrived earlier this week. I had a vague personal interest in this issue as, in the late 1990s, I was involved with a university film society screening in which one of the film’s actors, Laurence Payne, was in attendance. Unfortunately I could not remember much about the Q&A after the screening and so was unable to provide publisher/editor Dick Klemensen with anything that could have been included in the issue.
One thing that I did do for the film society screening (self-promotion...) was prepare a programme note, a page of smallish type, maybe seven or eight hundred words on the film. Watching Vampire Circus and comparing it to other Hammer films that I had seen to that point – basically whatever had turned up on the four terrestrial UK channels, with the exception of Terence Fisher’s So Long at the Fair, which I had annoyingly failed to set the VCR for – I was struck by how atypical it was.
There was no obvious savant to oppose the monster. Nor, indeed, was there an obvious monster, the lead vampire Count Mitterhaus having been dispatched in the prologue – a sequence that would have likely presented the climax of an earlier Hammer vampire film, or been given a brief recap before plunging into the main narrative, Dracula Prince of Darkness style. The approach was more ensemble based, with character actors rather than stars. You have Thorley Walters, for instance, but no Peter Cushing. As the film went on, it became increasingly fantastique – i.e. Continental, European, not stolid British, physical, Manichean Hammer, in the Terence Fisher mould. There was the tantalising prospect that evil might, for once, win.
So I put all this into my programme notes. I doubt if anyone else in attendance would have got these references. (Okay, so I'm an arrogant SOB...)
Now, reading the various contributions to this issue I feel vindicated. What I said, what I thought, seems broadly in line with what the contributors here felt. (Okay, so I'm an arrogant SOB #2...)
Away from the Vampire Circus related material, Klemensen continues to present a meta-commentary on fandom via his reviews. His magazine also continues its commitment to looking at lesser-known Hammer personnel, through an insightful and tragic interview with actor Peter Arne, unpublished for 30 years, Arne being murdered soon after.
All told, anyone who is a fan of Hammer, British Horror, or even cult cinema in general should get this.