DECEMBER 23, 2009
I wonder how many accidental purchases occurred due to retitling in the days before the internet. Terror Circus actually has another name on its own damn rental sleeve (Barn of the Naked Dead) and its IMDb (and thus "official") title is Nightmare Circus. There's also another movie sometimes called Terror Circus with Christopher Lee (which I own but haven't watched due to some debate over whether it's even really a horror movie). This sort of thing happened all the time in the 70s, though its pretty uncommon nowadays (the last notable example I can think of is 1998's Dancing About Architecture, which became Playing By Heart when it hit DVD), and I can't imagine how annoying it must have been for film fans. Especially when a title doesn't even make sense, which is the case for Barn of the Naked Dead, as the dead people are fully clothed.
This may have explained why Devin from CHUD told me the film was "sooooo bad" when I announced (over Twitter) my intention to watch it for my daily movie. So I must thank him for lowering my expectations, because I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It's slow, yes, but in a charming, off-kilter sort of way; a good example of "They just don't make em like this anymore!" itis.
First and foremost on my list of things that I liked about it is Andrew Prine's performance as Andre, the crazed "ringleader" of the (occasional) titular circus. From my perspective, he was sort of the Tom Jane of his day; a solid actor who could play villains as easily as heroes, and regardless of the film's content, would always find a way to play the character as a bit "off", though not in a flamboyant way like Christopher Walken or Nic Cage. They even have a similar physical appearance, and while I don't really think casting "look alikes" is the best way to go about a remake, I think the casting folks for any Prine film that gets remade should look to Jane first.
I also enjoyed the record time in which Andre has captured our standard car-full of pretty young girls. Not even 10 minutes have gone by before he has them tied up in his barn, alongside another 7 or 8 women that he had captured previously. Especially when you consider the year of the film's release (1974) - it's not like there had been a million of these things already, so I love that the filmmakers knew better than to waste too much time getting to the meat of the story. You look at a modern film like Wrong Turn 3, which has like two reels' worth of "character" and "plot" setup that no one gives a shit about, and you can even further appreciate the rapidity here. Not that they don't develop the characters; you get to know a bit about each girl, and we spend lots of time with Andre (and one girl who he thinks is his mother reincarnated). But the difference is, we learn this stuff throughout their ordeal, not as we wait for it.
Another thing that tickled me was how open the cops were to helping our heroines' "manager". The dude looks and sounds like a pimp (or maybe a sleazy bounty hunter), and yet not only do cops help him out when he asks, they even go out of their way to share information with him about the girls' (and others') disappearance, despite the fact that he never even produces a business card for them to verify his identity. It's pretty awesome. I can't imagine going up to a cop dressed like a slob and being like "Hey my three friends are missing" and having him drop everything to help me (especially in LA, where cops are so lazy they won't even pull someone over for driving without headlights at 2 in the morning). It's a nice depiction of our boys in blue.
Finally, I was REALLY surprised by the downer ending. We don't get to see much of the carnage, but the film's real killer (Andre's mutated father) wipes out pretty much every single girl (even the heroine) and then gets away while the cops tend to the lone survivor, a woman who was already pretty brain-fried by the ordeal and probably would be shipped to a psych ward for the rest of her life. Downer endings were not uncommon back then, but Christ, even Chain Saw let Sally get away. BOLD.
The DVD from Code Red is quite good, starting with an immaculate transfer that looks like a Blu-Ray most of the time. There's some print damage here and there (dirt, specks, and oddly placed "cigarette burns") but the color and image quality are beautiful; it's rare I have seen such a good transfer for a low budget B-movie of the era. And they have provided some nice extras, including a commentary track with the guys who did the makeup effects for the mutant guy. Since the mutant is only on-screen for about 4 minutes and one of the guys barely speaks in the making of, I skipped it (it's Christmas, dammit! I want to spend time with my family: Nick, Ellis, Rochelle, and Coach). The aforementioned making of is quite good, however, with lots of info and anecdotes packed into a half hour that only feels like half that time. It's also got the weirdest lineup for one of these things ever - the costume designer, one of the minor female characters, the makeup guys, and one of the producers who we only hear in voice-over for whatever reason (doesn't SOUND like he's on a phone, so I dunno why we can't see him). Prine has gone on record saying it's the only film he regretted doing, so I can see why he wouldn't be interested, but director Alan Rudolph and most of the female cast are still alive (as far as I can tell via IMDb anyway), so their absence is a bit noticeable. There's also an "alternate title sequence" which is just a single shot with the "Barn" title, but hey, I love that they went out of their way to put it on there, for Terror Circus completists. There's also a trailer but it's missing the audio, and instead of at least putting in the available source audio from the film itself (for dialogue and such) they just put the same damn annoying end credits song (which also accompanies the main menu) over it haphazardly. But again, this is not exactly a top tier title, so that it has any extras at all is pretty awesome, and the transfer alone shows more effort than most companies put into their high profile titles (Barn Of The Naked Dead has a pristine anamorphic transfer; Armageddon - one of the highest grossing films of all time - does not).
What say you?