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Also known as Barn Of The Naked Dead or, in some circles, Nightmare Circus, Alan Rudolph's 1973 film Terror Circus is one of those odd drive-in films that has probably lasted through the years thanks more to its sensational title than its actual cinematic qualities. Those expecting hordes of zombie nudist farmers are bound to be disappointed but anyone who enjoys that weird vibe that seemed to have only been possible to create in the seventies, that certain sleazy something that results in unintentional atmosphere, really ought to eat this one up.
The film follows a trio of pretty young women on a road trip through the Nevada desert on their way to Las Vegas. These women are Simone (Manuela Thiess), Sheri (Sherry Alberoni) and Corrine (Gyl Roland). Despite the warnings from a lecherous gas station attendant and his friend that their car is about to give up the ghost, they push on out into the middle of nowhere where, of course, their car sputters and stops.
A strange local man named Andre (Andrew Prine) abducts the three lovely ladies and chains them up in his barn where he acts as a ringmaster in a sadistic circus or torture. Unfortunately for the girls, the cops in the area don't move on these things too quickly and, making matters worse, is the fact Andre's father is a psychotic murderous monster who lives in the outhouse nearby...
Not as trashy or exploitative as the Barn Of The Naked Dead alternate title implies, the film is never the less an enjoyably dark and twisted little ride. The desert locations give the picture a very burnt, destitute look and the cinematography actually does a pretty strong job of capturing this. Performance wise, Prine is really the only one who stands out. It's not that the rest of the cast is terrible, they're not at all, they're just fairly unremarkable whereas he definitely gets into his role and plays his part with no shortage of malicious glee.
The plot isn't about to win any awards for originality. After all, how many countless horror films have begun with someone's car breaking down in the middle of nowhere only to allow the local nut-jobs a chance to do their thing? That said, the film stands out on its own enough thanks to the genuinely bizarre circus aspect and its wholly unseemly vibe that it's definitely worth a look.
Alan Rudolph would go on to direct a few other notable films, most recently Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast Of Champions, but prior to that even he had some success with films like Songwriter (starring Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson!) and the award winning drama, The Moderns.
Code Red brings 2Terror Circus to region free Blu-ray on a 25GB disc with the eighty-four minute feature taking up just under 19GBs of space and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Generally speaking, this is a pretty nice transfer. Detail doesn't rise to the levels that it would have had the movie been given a new 4k scan but it definitely advances quite substantially over the past DVD editions. Colors look nice and natural and there's some pretty nice depth noticeable in the image. The elements used for the transfer were clearly in great shape, there's very little print damage here, though the film's natural grain is retained. Compression artifacts, noise reduction and edge enhancement are a never and issue. All in all, this looks quite good.
The only audio option on the disc is a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are offered up in English only. The track is clean, clear and nicely balanced and for an older mono mix for a low budget film from the early seventies, it sounds pretty solid. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the dialogue is always clean and easy to hear.
The main extra on the disc is a twenty-five minute featurette called Barn Again! Retuning To The Terror Circus, which is carried over from the previous Code Red/Media Blasters DVD release from 2009. This is made up of interviews with Marvin Almeas, Allan Apone, Jennifer Ashley, Byrd Holland and Doug White all conducted by Bill Olsen. It's an interesting look back at the making of the movie that goes over what it was like on set, working with Rudolph, thoughts no different characters in the movie and more.
You can also watch the feature in Katrina's Bucketlist Mode where, when enabled, you get intros and outros from horror host/wrestler Katrina Leigh Waters that are fairly amusing and offer up some basic trivia about the movie. Note that the commentary track and alternate opening titles sequence from the Code Red/Media Blasters DVD has not been carried over to this disc, which is unfortunate.
Terror Circus is an enjoyably sleazy little drive-in movie with some fun performances, a great ending, and some interesting atmosphere. Code Red's Blu-ray release, puzzlingly, does not carry over all of the extras from their DVD edition, which is a strike against it, but it offers a very nice upgrade in the audio and video departments and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.