Terror Circus (1973)

terrorcircusWhat happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — you just gotta get there first. Tell that to the terrified trio of showgirls who find themselves cast in a Terror Circus when their crappy car blows a radiator and breaks down on a rural route frequented only by tumbleweeds.

The interchangeable ladies (played by Buckskin’s Manuela Thiess, Sisters of Death’s Sherry Alberoni and Warlock’s Gyl Roland) are pleased to accept a ride from total stranger Andre (Andrew Prine, Eliminators) … until they realize they’re then trapped. In fact, they’re the latest additions to Andre’s ever-expanding menagerie of “my little bears”: women he keeps chained up in his Barn of the Naked Dead (one of the movie’s alternate titles, with Nightmare Circus being another). Justifies one of the comely captives, “He had nice eyes.”

terrorcircus1Guess what, gang? Andre’s got mommy issues. As a self-appointed ringmaster, Andre dons a top hat, takes whip in hand and works the women over, toward his goal of building a “trained animal act.” And if the ladies don’t obey his orders? Easy: Those deemed “untrainable” are let loose in the field to play tag with his not-so-trained cougar. Me-OW!

Prine’s antagonist is perhaps even more wacko than his serial killer of The Centerfold Girls; regardless, his portrayal is just as committed (no pun intended). As if you needed telling, Terror Circus is not in the greatest of taste, then or now, yet it actually has more in store for viewers than first glance. The most interesting thing about it would be the deformed cannibal freak (wearing a wedding ring!) whom Andre keeps in the shed, if not for the fact that the film is directed by Robert Altman protégé Alan Rudolph (Breakfast of Champions), who — according to reportage in 2013’s Forgotten Horrors to the Nth Degree by Michael H. Price and John Wooley — not only disowns it, but denies involvement entirely. Nice try, Alan! He should be proud that his Circus takes an end turn in defiance of both genre beats and audience expectations. —Rod Lott

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