Hammer Film's schlock-infested movies are curious oddities. They're good and self-aware enough to be entertaining, but they're just craptastic enough that they deserve a shrug much more than a thumbs up. Simply, Hammer films are camp that rarely offend but just as rarely transcend.
The success of Vampire Circus, the 1972 British horror movie about a traveling vampire circus troupe sent to a small village to avenge and resurrect their kin, Count Mitterhaus, depends a lot on how much you appreciate camp.
What is not debatable though is how educational it is. In fact, I can say with confidence that Vampire Circus is the most educational movie featuring a vampire dwarf, a strong man, a panther man, and, of course, a vampire circus.
The line between vampire count and vampire pedophile is thin
The movie opens up with a villager, Anna Muller, taking a young girl to Count Mitterhaus so that he can do the standard vampire stuff. However, with his unbuttoned puffy shirt, creepy seductive stare and desire to play with the girl's hair, for a second it looks like maybe Mitterhaus is interested in something more than just the same old Nosferatu business.
Fortunately, once Mitterhaus let's the fangs loose we realize that he is not a pedophile and he just kills her instead of doing something sketchy.
If you have them, vampire fangs are your most powerful weapon
Not too long after Mitterhaus kills the girl, the villagers show up with a stake to take care of business. Fortunately for Mitterhaus, he has his trusty teeth with him at all times. It may look weird for someone to use their own teeth in hand-to-hand combat, but lucky for Mitterhaus, the villagers are stupid (see next lesson).
Mitterhaus may be a borderline pedophile and a full-on child killer, but it's hard to hate on a resourceful vampire.
When in a mob, it is not acceptable to fight a foe one at a time
There are a lot of benefits to a mob. You can often outnumber your foes, your pitchfork finally comes in handy and, with the onset of mob behavior, you don't feel morally conflicted about stomping someone's face in.
That is why it is inexcusable for any mob to do what the mob in Vampire Circus does: fight their foe (in this case, Mitterhaus) one at a time. It's as if these villagers have never seen a ninja movie.
It's a bad idea to keep murderers in your village, even if they are fun to have around.
Sure, the circus people might be a ton of fun to have around, especially in such a depressing time when the plague is wiping everyone out, as Anton keeps reminding his fellow villagers over and over again. However, once the murder rate spikes after their arrival, it might be smart to kick the carnies out.
Actually, it's a good idea to kick non-murdering carnies out too, but it's a no-brainer when they start killing children.
It's a bad idea to date a sleazy-looking guy who can turn into a panther
In Rosa's defense, she didn't know Emil could turn into a panther, but his greasy thin mustache probably should have been enough to convince her to avoid him.
Never trust the midget
It may be inappropriate now to use the word midget these days—and it's certainly inappropriate to say that you should never trust one—but when you're life is on the line and you need someone to help you escape a barricaded village, don't trust the midget that dresses like a clown and generally goes out of his way to look like a creepshow.
We've covered it before. There are times to be political correct and then there are times to sacrifice prostitutes and shun dwarves. When murdering vampire circus people are killing children, don't trust the midget.
Watch out for that giant cross above you!
It's excusable to overlook a makeshift cross, like one from a crossbow, but if you failed to see the giant cross in the rafters of the church, once it's hurling towards your head, it's too late. This goes for regular people as well as vampires. Just because you're not a vampire doesn't mean an enormous cross weighing hundreds of pounds won't squash your insides.
Beware the crazy mirror that doesn't make you look funny
Crazy mirror houses at circuses and county fairs are rarely all that crazy. In fact, they're pretty stupid. Still, if you find yourself suckered into entering one, be on the lookout for any mirrors that do not seem to do anything because, as the name suggests, there are crazy mirrors in this room, so it must do something. What are those possible somethings? In the case of Vampire Circus, it transports you to a cave where you will be murdered. However, there are a lot of other things a non-crazy-looking crazy mirror could do. It could steal your identity and buy a boat. It could dip your hands in warm water while you sleep, causing you to pee your pants. Maybe it could even sleep with your wife. True, it may do something super cool like give you a back massage, but as Vampire Circus suggest, there's a fat chance of that, buddy.
It's never a bad idea to keep a strong man handy
Vampires, of course, can be killed with crosses. That's why the circus vampires keep a strong man handy. It's not apparent at first that the strong man isn't a vampire, but near the end of the film, when crosses seem to do him no harm, it's evident that the vampires hired the services of a tall, strong bro just in case some doors needed to be plowed through.
The first step in stopping a circus troupe of vampires? Kill the animals, of course!
Once the murders get out of hand, the mayor gets a little belligerent and wages war against the obvious culprits: the circus animals. Normally, it's not stupid to assume that some caged wild animals are responsible for killing people, but if you're ever in the circumstance where years earlier you had a bonafide fucking vampire in your village who vowed vengeance, you might want to be a little suspicious of the weirdo circus people.
And really, isn't that the overriding lesson here? Never trust circus people. Who has ever benefited from that? Certainly not the villagers from Vampire Circus, even when all of the warning signs were right in front of their faces. Literally right in front of their stupid, inept faces. In fact, they probably deserved to die, but that would mean the circus people are the protagonist. And I'm not sure I can handle that.