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Circus of Fear (1966)

Director: John Moxley
Starring: Christopher Lee, Margaret Lee, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, Victor Maddern, Maurice Kaufmann
Screenplay: Peter Welbeck
Producer: Harry Alan Towers
Music: Johnny Douglas
AKA: Psycho Circus

What we have in Circus Of Fear is a British (rather than German) Edgar Wallace Krimi, albeit with a rather ‘International’ cast so it can travel over borders quite effectively. It also has a quite effective story line – I never knew where it was heading. Sure there are plenty of hints, and you can guess where each story thread may be leading, bot how do they all tie up together?

The film opens in London, and on a nice big widescreen closeup of Klaus Kinski’s head. Klaus is standing on a dock overlooking the Thames. But he isn’t the only suspicious character loitering around. There are quite a few suspicious characters – there’s two on a boat, there’s a few in a car, and another two men standing by a bridge with stockings over their heads. I realise this is swingin’ sixties London, baby, but I don’t think these guys are dressed like this because they’re swingers! It looks like some kind of heist is going down.

It doesn’t take long for the object of everyone’s attention to appear on the screen. It’s a small armoured van carrying a shit load of cash (er, for those confused by my terminology, a ‘shit load’ is an Australian collective noun… It can be used for almost anything, but most often to describe a large amount of money and when purchasing dim sims – but I digress). As the van and escort vehicle pull up at the bridge, the two gents in stockings make short work of the guards. This is because one of the guards, Mason, is in on the gig. However, unlike the other crooks, Mason isn’t a professional and he panics. He draws a pistol and shoots one of the other guards. The heist has now gone from being a simple robbery to now, MURDER!

Meanwhile Klaus has gone from loitering with intent, to completing a bit of nasty work himself. He sneaks up on the fellow in charge of raising and lowering The London Bridge and clocks him over the head. Now in charge, Klaus raises the bridge. The other cohorts are now on the bridge and are tying a rope to the railing and attaching the other end to a boat waiting on the river below. Attaching rings to the sacks of cash, they slide their ill gotten gain down to the boat. Then the criminals follow suit, crawling down to the boat. As the police flood into the area, the perpetrators make their getaway slowly cruising down the Thames.

Once in the clear they all assemble at a warehouse. Mason, after his indiscretion is given his share of the loot, and the unseen boss man’s loot too. Mason has to meet the boss outside the city in a place called ‘The Old Farm’ at Inglemere. The other cohorts load a van up with the remaining cash an drive off. Unfortunately for them, the police receive an anonymous tip off revealing the route they’ll be taking and the vehicle licence plate. This results in a car chase, with the perpetrators eventually being run off the road.

This leaves Mason as the only man with any of the cash, and he arrives at his destination at The Old Farm. For his trouble, he ends up with a knife in his back. Now this is where the films changes tone. Inglemere also happens to be the winter location for Barbarini’s Circus. Immediately we are introduced to a new set of disparate characters. Firstly there is Barbarini who runs the circus. Then there’s Gregor (Christopher Lee). Gregor, some years back had a horrible accident and now always wears a black hooded mask. Hi is also the custodian of his neice, Natasha (Suzy Kendall) Then we have Gina (Margaret Lee) who performs a knife act with her insanely jealous boyfriend Mario, who, as you’ve guessed is a knife thrower. Next you’ve got Karl (Heinz Drache), who is the ringmaster.

Now it’s pretty obvious that someone associated with the circus has had a part in the robbery, but of course that isn’t revealed. But it’s not before long and some of the stolen money starts to surface. All the banks in the area have been notified of the serial numbers of the stolen money, and when some turns up, passed by Barbarini, Police Inspector Elliot (Leo Genn) is called in to investigate.

It’s not the purpose of this website to act as a shill for any particular video or DVD company, but if you are going to watch Circus Of Fear (or any of the other names this film has travelled under), then do yourself the favour and obtain the Blue Underground version – Previous versions have been severely truncated – in America the film was originally released at 61 minutes long and in black and white – needless to say, this will not do the film justice. Get the full version and enjoy the film for what it is – and that’s a hugely entertaining thriller with a great cast.

Circus of Fear (1966)

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules (1962)

Director: Guido Malatesta
Starring: Reg Lewis, Margaret Lee, Luciano Marin, Andrea Aureli
Music: Guido Robuschi, Gian Stellari

The version of Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules that I viewed for this review appears to be an American repackaging of another English version of the film. It features a toe-tapping theme song, “The Mighty Sons Of Hercules” which appears to have been tacked onto a few Sons Of Hercules Adventures – for example Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules starring Mark Forest. In this film Reg Lewis plays Maciste, but the very weird thing is that whenever he says his name, he has been re-dubbed (by another voice that sounds nothing like the original dub). He says “My name is MAXIS – SON OF HERCULES”

This film is a bit different to many of the other Hercules, or Sons Of Hercules films. It doesn’t take place in ancient Greece or Italy. It takes place in the Ice Age. Which brings us to a very interesting question. How could the Son Of Hercules being wandering around the planet, when his father wasn’t born till several thousand years later? Maybe it’s best that we ignore that.

The films opens with the Sun Tribe venturing out of the ice, trying to find a new home where they can set up camp. These are the good guys. You can tell, because they wear white fur skins as clothing. Amongst the Sun Tribe are Idar (Luciano Marin) and Fuwan (Andrea Aureli). They are set to be married. As they stroll along the foreshore of a lake, a giant rubber water dragon attacks them. It looks like it is curtains for our young lovers, but from a cliff top over-looking the lake, up jumps Maxis (Reg Lewis). Lewis, who is suitably beefy for the role, looks like a blonde Elvis on steroids. His slicked back, rockabilly haircut seems a little bit out of place during the Ice Age, but that is just another thing that it is best that we ignore. Maxis tosses a spear at the dragon which hits it in the eye. The dragon dies and Maxis walks off, having completed his good deed for the day.

Later, Idar and Fuwan are married. As the ceremony finishes, the Sun Tribe’s camp is attacked by the Moon Tribe. You can tell the Moon Tribe is bad because they wear black fur skins. The Moon Tribe kill most of the men, and take the women prisoner. They march the women back to their camp, which is hidden in a cave.

Idar is now leader of the surviving Sun people, and naturally wants Fuwan (and the other girls) back. He sends out search parties for Maxis, who is undoubtedly wandering around in a forest nearby awaiting some kind of calamity, where his strength and services will be required. He responds to the call, and tracks the Moon Tribe to the underground lair.

Inside the cave, Maxis meets and teams up with Moa (Margaret Lee), and that folks is possibly the main reason to watch this film. There is something special about watching Margaret Lee scantily clad in animal skins.

Despite the title, Maxis doesn’t really have to battle a giant Fire Monster in this film. There are two dragons and a few snake like water monsters, but this film isn’t really a rubber monster flick. It is about the two warring tribes.

There are some decent set pieces throughout the film, mostly fights with bloody great clubs, and of course, Maxis gets to throw around a few paper mache rocks and trees. The cheesiest moment happens when Maxis and Moa have been captured by the Moon Tribe and are buried up to their neck in sand. How the couple escape form this dire predicament is laughable.

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules is pretty average. If it didn’t feature Margaret Lee, one of my favourite leading ladies from the sixties, I would have switched off half way. Reg Lewis is wooden and very low-key as the hero. As a screen presence, I’d say he was over shadowed by Luciano Marin as Idar. And I am not too convinced about the Stone Age backdrop to this film either. I miss seeing the grand palaces with their evil Kings and Queens, the staple of so many peplum films. All in all, I think this film is a bit of a failure.

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules (1962)

Coplan Saves His Skin (1968)

Original title: Coplan sauve sa peau
AKA: Devil’s Garden / Requiem for a Snake
Country: France / Italy
Director: Yves Boisset
Starring: Claudio Brook, Margaret Lee, Jean Servais, Bernard Blier, Jean Topart, Hans Meyer, Klaus Kinski
Music: Jean-Claude Pelletier
Based on the book Coplan Paie le Cercueil by Paul Kenny

Coplan Saves his Skin is the first film I have watched in the Coplan series. I do have a copy of an earlier entry FX-18 Superspy directed by Riccardo Freda, but the print is so diabolical even I couldn’t watch it. It looked like a polar bear in a snow storm, rather than the beautiful glossy colours I know the film proper has. So I tossed that to one side waiting for the day when a better print surfaces (it’s been a long wait). But while I wait, Coplan Saves his Skin has landed in my lap.

Now this is one of the very few titles not covered in the indispensable Eurospy Guide — notice whenever I refer to ‘The Guide’, I always describe it as the ‘indispensable’ Eurospy Guide — and that’s because if you are spy film fan, you cannot do without this book. I remember when this book came out five years ago (that long ago, huh!). I used to scrounge around trying to find movies from just one or two grey market dealers. I didn’t really know how much was out there. I knew that there were spy films that I wanted to see, but I didn’t know their names — after all these films go by so many titles. As for series, it was almost impossible to link up films. For example, above I mentioned FX-18 Superspy — in some markets it was released as Agent 077 Summergame. I thought it was a part of the 077 series, where in reality it is a Coplan film. Even IMDb wasn’t much help back then — if you were lucky you could find a title, but there was no cast and crew information. But then the Eurospy Guide appeared, and suddenly everything changed. Films had names. Series could be traced, and even better, the flow on effect is now these films are slowly being released. Companies like Dorado, Fin de Siecle, Dark Sky, and Retromedia started releasing some of these films. And also fan projects are being put together by eager Eurospy fans, keen to fill in the blanks — which is fantastic (and I my thanks sincerely goes out to those who put in the hours to redub, or subtitle some of these films. Your work is appreciated).

The fact that I can watch a version of Coplan Saves his Skin, where as at the time of writing David and Matt (the author’s of The Eurospy Guide) couldn’t, says a lot about how things have changed. But onwards.

Often when I look at Eurospy films you will read the term ‘James Bond ripoff’. And on the whole that is true, particularly of the Italian films. But the French films often owed a great debt to Alfred Hitchcock. The French New Wave loved Hitchcock, and you’ve got to remember that after North By Northwest, they wanted Alfred Hitchcock to direct the first Bond film, Thunderball (for those who are unsure about what I am referring to, should check out Robert Sellers excellent book, The Battle For Bond). Anyway, Hitchcock’s shadow fell over quite a few Eurospy productions, and these films had a slightly more psychological edge to them, rather than the slam-bam action of those films which relied solely on the Bond template. Coplan Saves his Skin is heavily influenced by Vertigo (but without the dizzying heights).

The film opens in Istanbul on the streets. A fat, hairy beast of a man, while eating melon, watches a group of street performers go through their routines. There is a man lying on a bed of nails, a fire eater, and even a dancing bear. At that moment, world renowned scientist, Otto Eisner walks by, accompanied by his assistant Mara (Margaret Lee). The hairy beast begins to follow them, sneaks up and stabs Eisner. Then he runs off. Rather foolishly, Mara chooses to follow him. This doesn’t last too long because the hairy beast signals to another guy, and he begins to chase Mara. I don’t know why the hairy beast didn’t just stab Mara too, but what the heck, let’s just go with it!

This new minion chases Mara all over Istanbul, which is a great opportunity to show off some great location photography (got to get that ferry in there somewhere). Eventually she loses her tail and makes her way to some kind of public house. Waiting there for her is Francis Coplan (Claudio Brook). He has travelled half way across the world to be there. The back story is that three years prior, in Acapulco, Mara and Coplan used to be lovers. Then one day she disappeared without a word, leaving him heart broken. Now all these years later, she contacts him. She needs his help because he works for the CIA. He obviously still holds a torch for her, because he turned up. He presents her with a red rose.

Not one to waste time, Mara explains that an organisation called the ‘Consortium of Brains’ are trying to kill her. Apparently the ‘Consortium’ aren’t evil men — they work for the betterment of mankind — but still, they want her dead. It never is really explained why.

Later as Coplan and Mara walk in a garden, they are attacked by a group of thugs dressed in black. One of them is the hairy beast and he goes after Mara, while the others beat up on Coplan. Mara tries to fight back and slings candle wax into the beasts face – he goes berserk (ends up facially scarred) and appears to repeatedly stab her. Appears? Well his bulk hides the action, and it’s hard to tell what he has in his hand. It appears to be a knife, but who knows?

Coplan slowly regains consciousness on a pebble beach. He is pretty smashed up, and has a serious knife wound on his left arm. He is found by a girl named Yasmine who arranges help. Once Coplan is healed, Lieutenant Sakki of the Emniyet (Turkish Secret Police) wants him to leave the country. Of course Coplan doesn’t and begins a search for Mara (and/or her killers).

Most Eurospy films feature the same old cliches. They often start with a brilliant scientist killed or kidnapped. Then the beautiful daughter or assistant becomes tangled up in the investigation with the dashing secret agent. As this film begins, all those cliches are present which tend to indicate that this is going to be another formulaic Eurospy flick (and hey, I’m happy with that!) But then in the middle, this film becomes a little bit eery as Coplan’s search for Mara becomes more obsessive and the film subtly shifts towards being a psychological drama. And while I do love the corny Eurospy tropes, I thought that Coplan Saves his Skin was striving to be a bit more than that. The cliches are here, but there also something fresh and atmospheric (albeit lifted from Vertigo). Coplan Saves his Skin is one of the more affecting Eurospy films. People who are after empty action thrills may find the going a little slow in the middle, but ultimately for those willing to invest their time will find this film to be a rewarding experience.

Claudio Brook is not your standard square-jawed hero. He is not as handsome and debonair as a Connery, a John Gavin or even a Richard Whyler. And physically, he isn’t as packed as a Ken Clark, Louis Davilla or Brad Harris. Brook is an ‘everyman’, and with the psychological approach this film takes, that’s a big plus when it comes to selling the human, obsessive side of the story. And obsessive Francis Coplan is. Even when all the twists have played out (which I wont reveal here), Coplan doesn’t accept it. His mind is singular in it’s desire. If Coplan had been a smarmy, self confident playboy (like Tony Kendall in the Kommissar X films), then all the believability in the character would have gone out the window.

Klaus Kinski give an oddball performance as Theler, who is a sculptor that knows something about Mara’s disappearance. Kinski spends his time surrounded by naked women and nude sculpture. He appears to wander around in a sarong and holds the odd seance. His role (and performance) aren’t pivotal to the story, but it’s always great to see him in this type of flick — and for once he isn’t playing a psycho hitman, which is refreshing.

Hans Meyer, plays Hugo the villain of the piece. He strokes a black cat (I never said this film totally eschews the Bondian stereotypes), and has a leather side plate on the left side of his face to hide horrible facial scarring. He also has a pretty impressive lair, which is a castle located in the Devil’s Valley. Now while Hugo is evil, he is also one of those villains who carries out his scheme in the belief it is for the betterment of all mankind. So he is evil, without being totally evil. The true villainy comes from his number one henchwoman, Carole, you wields a whip. Now she is just plain nuts with a delicious cruel streak. At the climax she is in charge of a manhunt to track Coplan down — it is essentially a variation on the ‘most dangerous game’. The sequence is a bit drawn out — and there is a rather poor sequence with a large spider, but the sensational location footage really makes up for any shortcomings. The ending has a very different feel to most films of it’s type.

I am making this film sound like a masterpiece. it is not, but it is substantially more intelligent than most of the films of it’s ilk, while at the same time presenting all the requisite tropes of the genre.

Coplan Saves His Skin (1968)

Fire Monster Against the Son of Hercules

Film GenericThe version of Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules that I viewed seems to be an American repackaging of another English version of the film. It features a toe-tapping theme song, “The Mighty Sons Of Hercules” which appears to have been tacked onto a few Sons Of Hercules Adventures – for example Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules starring Mark Forest. In this film Reg Lewis plays Maciste, but the very weird thing is that whenever he says his name, he has been re-dubbed (by another voice that sounds nothing like the original dub). He says “My name is MAXIS – SON OF HERCULES

This film is a bit different to many of the other Hercules, or Sons Of Hercules films. It doesn’t take place in ancient Greece or Italy. It takes place in the Ice Age. Which brings us to a very interesting question. How could the Son Of Hercules being wandering around the planet, when his father wasn’t born till several thousand years later? Maybe it’s best that we ignore that.

The films opens with the Sun Tribe venturing out of the ice, trying to find a new home where they can set up camp. These are the good guys. You can tell, because they wear white fur skins as clothing. Amongst the Sun Tribe are Idar (Luciano Marin) and Fuwan (Andrea Aureli). They are set to be married. As they stroll along the foreshore of a lake, a giant rubber water dragon attacks them. It looks like it is curtains for our young lovers, but from a cliff top over-looking the lake, up jumps Maxis (Reg Lewis). Lewis, who is suitably beefy for the role, looks like a blonde Elvis on steroids. His slicked back, rockabilly haircut seems a little bit out of place during the Ice Age, but that is just another thing that it is best that we ignore. Maxis tosses a spear at the dragon which hits it in the eye. The dragon dies and Maxis walks off, having completed his good deed for the day.

Later, Idar and Fuwan are married. As the ceremony finishes, the Sun Tribe’s camp is attacked by the Moon Tribe. You can tell the Moon Tribe is bad because they wear black fur skins. The Moon Tribe kill most of the men, and take the women prisoner. They march the women back to their camp, which is hidden in a cave.

Idar is now leader of the surviving Sun people, and naturally wants Fuwan (and the other girls) back. He sends out search parties for Maxis, who is undoubtedly wandering around in a forest nearby awaiting some kind of calamity, where his strength and services will be required. He responds to the call, and tracks the Moon Tribe to the underground lair.

Inside the cave, Maxis meets and teams up with Moa (Margaret Lee), and that folks is possibly the main reason to watch this film. There is something special about watching Margaret Lee scantily clad in animal skins.

Despite the title, Maxis doesn’t really have to battle a giant Fire Monster in this film. There are two dragons and a few snake like water monsters, but this film isn’t really a rubber monster flick. It is about the two warring tribes.

There are some decent set pieces throughout the film, mostly fights with bloody great clubs, and of course, Maxis gets to throw around a few paper mache rocks and trees. The cheesiest moment happens when Maxis and Moa have been captured by the Moon Tribe and are buried up to their neck in sand. How the couple escape form this dire predicament is laughable.

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules is pretty average. If it didn’t feature Margaret Lee, I would have switched off half way. Reg Lewis is wooden and very low-key as the hero. As a screen presence, I’d say he was over shadowed by Luciano Marin as Idar. And I am not too convinced about the Stone Age backdrop to this film either. I miss seeing the grand palaces with their evil Kings and Queens, the staple of so many peplum films. All in all, I think this film is a bit of a failure.

Fire Monster Against the Son of Hercules

Circus Of Fear (1966)

Film GenericWhat we have in Circus Of Fear is a British Edgar Wallace Krimi, albeit with a rather ‘International’ cast so it can travel over borders quite effectively. Also quite effective is the story line which I never guessed where it was heading. Sure there are plenty of hints, and you can guess where each story thread may be leading, but how do they all tie up together?

The film opens in London, and on a nice big widescreen closeup of Klaus Kinski’s head. Klaus is standing on a dock overlooking the Thames. But he isn’t the only suspicious character loitering around. There are quite a few suspicious characters – there’s two on a boat, there’s a few in a car, and another two men standing by a bridge with stockings over their heads. I realise this is swingin’ sixties London, baby, but I don’t think these guys are dressed like this because they’re swingers! It looks like some kind of heist is going down.

It doesn’t take long for the object of everyone’s attention to appear on the screen. It’s a small armoured van carrying a shit load of cash (er, for those confused by my terminology, a ‘shit load’ is an Australian collective noun… It can be used for almost anything, but most often to describe a large amount of money and when purchasing dim sims – but I digress). As the van and escort vehicle pull up at the bridge, the two gents in stockings make short work of the guards. This is because one of the guards, Mason, is in on the gig. However, unlike the other crooks, Mason isn’t a professional and he panics. He draws a pistol and shoots one of the other guards. The heist has now gone from being a simple robbery to now, MURDER!

Meanwhile Klaus has gone from loitering with intent, to completing a bit of nasty work himself. He sneaks up on the fellow in charge of raising and lowering The London Bridge and clocks him over the head. Now in charge, Klaus raises the bridge. The other cohorts are now on the bridge and are tying a rope to the railing and attaching the other end to a boat waiting on the river below. Attaching rings to the sacks of cash, they slide their ill gotten gain down to the boat. Then the criminals follow suit, crawling down to the boat. As the police flood into the area, the perpetrators make their getaway slowly cruising down the Thames.

Once in the clear they all assemble at a warehouse. Mason, after his indiscretion is given his share of the loot, and the unseen boss man’s loot too. Mason has to meet the boss outside the city in a place called ‘The Old Farm’ at Inglemere. The other cohorts load a van up with the remaining cash an drive off. Unfortunately for them, the police receive an anonymous tip off revealing the route they’ll be taking and the vehicle licence plate. This results in a car chase, with the perpetrators eventually being run off the road.

This leaves Mason as the only man with any of the cash, and he arrives at his destination – The Old Farm. For his trouble, he ends up with a knife in his back. Now this is where the films changes tone. Inglemere also happens to be the winter location for Barbarini’s Circus. Immediately we are introduced to a new set of disparate characters. Firstly there is Barbarini (Anthony Newlands) who runs the circus. Then there’s Gregor (Christopher Lee). Gregor, some years back had a horrible accident and now always wears a black hooded mask. He is also the custodian of his neice, Natasha (Suzy Kendall) Then we have Gina (Margaret Lee) who performs a knife act with her insanely jealous boyfriend Mario, who, as you’ve guessed is a knife thrower. Next you’ve got Karl (Heinz Drache), who is the ringmaster. There’s also a malicious midget called Mr. Big, who specialises at listening outside windows.

Now it’s pretty obvious that someone associated with the circus has had a part in the robbery, but of course that isn’t revealed. But it’s not before long and some of the stolen money starts to surface. All the banks in the area have been notified of the serial numbers of the stolen money, and when some turns up, passed by Barbarini, Police Inspector Elliot (Leo Genn) is called in to investigate.

It’s not the purpose of this website to act as a shill for any particular video or DVD company, but if you are going to watch Circus Of Fear (or any of the other names this film has travelled under), then do yourself the favour and obtain the Blue Underground version. Previous versions have been severely truncated – in America the film was originally released at 61 minutes long and in black and white – needless to say, this will not do the film justice. Get the full version and enjoy the film for what it is – and that’s a hugely entertaining thriller with a great cast.

Circus Of Fear (1966)