Vampire Circus (1971/Synapse Films Blu-ray + DVD combo pack)
Picture: A- Sound:
B+ Extras: B+ Film: B-
The new Vampire Circus DVD/Blu-ray
combo pack is an absolute must-own for Hammer fans. Synapse has pulled out all the stops for this,
their first Blu-ray release... and high-def craving horror fans out their will
surely be delighted. Care has been given
to absolutely every aspect of these discs - from the beautiful picture and
sound quality, to the excellent and plentiful bonus features that have been
produced specifically for this release.
A departure from Hammer's previous vampire films, Vampire Circus saw a
shift in locale from the typical gothic castles to the more lively atmosphere
provided by a traveling carnival. It was
enough of a shift to spice things up without being too drastically different
from their established formula - a balancing act that some of the more
outlandish concepts to follow it from the studio didn't pull off as gracefully.
Excellent in many ways, and above all else, a visual treat, the film still
comes up short of being all that it could have been, and the experience of
watching it feels a tad incomplete. Some
explanation for this is given in the supplementary materSendials, which mentions
that the production was cut short by a few days, and as a result, a small
amount of continuity shots were left unfilmed.
This doesn't entirely explain away the feeling of the film being a little
underdeveloped, but the few shortcomings of the film are easily overlooked. At the end of the day, it serves its purpose
of being a fun and entertaining horror film, while delivering all the goods you
expect from a Hammer production.
Picture quality is top notch, and is a yardstick for classic films on the
Blu-ray format, I have heard some griping about this edition of the film
looking too dark, but I think that is hogwash. The detail is sharper than any other edition
and the colors remain vibrant without being too bright and washed out. The image is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen,
with the Blu-ray in 1080p high definition.
For the audio tracks, the discs sport not only the original sound mix, but an
isolated music and effects track as well. Collectors will certainly appreciate this
feature, though I'd have liked for there to be a commentary track available, in
spite of the detailed background on the film provided by the special features. No multi-channel mix here, but it is
unnecessary, and the DTS HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 2.0 Mono audio track is
clean and clear with nary an imperfection.
The bonus content includes a documentary on the making of the film, as well as
a featurette that takes a look back on circus and sideshow related horror films
through the years. This is a good
overview, and pretty much everything of note makes it on this list. It is an excellent introduction for those
still unfamiliar with certain genre pictures, but a well-seasoned watcher of
horror should know these films already. Nonetheless, it is entertaining
and well done.
Even better is the retrospective on House of Hammer magazine (later
known as Hammer's Halls of Horror). This publication can be looked upon as Britain's substitute for Famous Monsters of Filmland,
and as its existence is relatively little known over here in the U.S.,
this comes as welcome insight into its creation and influence.
If you haven't gotten around to picking up this set yet, I suggest that you do
so immediately - it would be well worth your investment. You'll have a little extra time to play catch
up with this release as well, since Synapse has pushed back the next in their
lineup of Blu-ray titles in order to fine tune them to be in line with their
high quality standards. This extra step
in dedication goes to show how committed they are to their customers, as many
studios would just as soon rush out an incomplete or flawed product without
missing a beat.
- David Milchick