Taking the Dracula myth in a somewhat different direction, this opens with a lengthy prologue which sees a mob of villagers attacking the castle of vampire Count Mitterhaus. As he dies, Mitterhaus curses the village, and 15 years later, it seems the curse has arrived. The village is infected by the plague and quarantined from help. However, a mysterious circus, led by a Gypsy woman (Corri) suddenly appears, providing a distraction. However, it turns out one of the performers is Mitterhaus's cousin, Emil (Corland), who intends to use the life-force of the villagers - and, in particular, their children - to revive his relative. Anton Kersch (Moulder-Brown), the local doctor's son, is one of the few to realize what's going on, and has to rescue his girlfriend, who is increasingly falling under the spell of the circus and its members.
There's a whole bunch of interesting distractions here. His girlfriend is played by the future Mrs. Peter Sellers, Lynne Frederick, while the circus performers include both Dave 'Darth Vader' Prowse, and Lalla Ward, who'd go on to be both a Doctor Who assistant and (briefly) Mrs. Tom Baker. The rest of the film is a bit more of a mixed bag: Corri is good, and Corlan has a nicely-feline look, transforming from a panther, but it's definitely a problem that the main villain, Mitterhaus, spends the bulk of the movie lying in his coffin, and is entirely forgettable as well. The whole "plague" aspect is brought up, and then rapidly discarded, despite the potential for drawing parallels between vampirism and disease (as in Nosferatu), and Prowse's strong-man character is equally superfluous. However, things like the frequent and creepy hurdy-gurdy music help generate a nice sense of atmosphere, and the film does beat Cat People to the punch by a decade, in its "half-human, half-black panther as sex object" angle. All told, it works well enough, provided you take this on its own merits. Indeed, it pretty much has to be seen as such, because there's little if any connection, in style or content, to any other of the seventies Hammer entries.
What we said then. Unlike most Hammer horrors, this one starts with a mob of torch-wielding villagers, in a lengthy prologue that sets the scene for a vampire's revenge. The revenge takes the form of a 'Circus of Nights', travelling the country, bringing death wherever it goes, and ending up in the village responsible, which is now under quarantine for disease. It's a great idea, but it loses steam largely because the main protagonists on both sides are largely out of the picture, turning it into a battle of supporting actors for the most part. Good and evil really need a strong, central figure - see Messrs. Lee and Cushing - and the lack thereof here leaves the film flapping around in second gear for most of the movie. It's not short on bodies or nudity, and when everyone turns up in the final reel, it gets going nicely, this is more an irritating reminder of what might have been. Still, nice to see Darth Vader (Dave Prowse), Romana (Lalla Ward) and Mrs. Peter Sellers (Lynne Frederick), in various roles, and the method of dealing with the chief vampire is certainly, er, unusual. But it never lives up to the promise of its premise. C-