APES ON FILM: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

Posted on: Aug 1st, 2022 By:

by Contributing Writer
Chris Herzog

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



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2 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Andrew Prine, Sherry Alberoni, Gyl Roland
Director: Alan Rudolph
Rated: R
Studio: Kino Lorber/Code Red
Region: A B C
BRD Release Date: 7-12-2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio:  Widescreen (1.78:1)
Run Time: 84 Min.


Seventies exploitation cinema is chock full of things like TERROR CIRCUS (aka BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD, aka NIGHTMARE CIRCUS), but there is better stuff to start with if you enjoy this sort of thing. This flick’s various titles are a great come-on—I mean, who isn’t curious about what goes on in the Barn of the Naked Dead? And a circus sounds fun anytime. Alas, TERROR CIRCUS is a decidedly hit-and-miss affair. I know it has its fans, but for many, the pic will wear out its welcome, even at less than 90 minutes.

Three showgirls (Manuella Theiss, Sherry Alberoni, and Gyl Roland) are traveling to Vegas for a gig when their car breaks down in the desert. In no time at all, they end up in the clutches of Andre (Prine) who adds them to a menagerie of captive women he keeps in his barn. Viewers who demand some sensibility in their drive-in dreck may wonder how Andre manages to control a group of at least ten women when he is never armed with anything more lethal than a bullwhip—and he doesn’t even have that with him all the time. His main technique seems to be simply grabbing someone by the wrist while she cries and begs, and the other nine women look on anxiously. Something tells me if he tried this in real life, he’d quickly be face down in the straw with ten hippie women making it rain go-go boots on him. Ah, but I guess that’s the magic of the movies.

Turns out that Andre has a circus fetish and likes to dress up like a ringmaster and crack the whip at his captives like they’re a bunch of performing animals. His rather sad collection of real “circus animals” consists of a cougar of some sort and a big snake, both of which he sics on the ladies when the notion strikes him. Sorry no gorillas, clowns, or human oddities in this circus. Well, actually, there is one oddity. Turns out the government used to conduct vaguely described “experiments” involving radiation or atom bombs or something in this neck of the desert back in the day. The radiation took its toll on Andre’s dad, who is now a big, grotesque cannibal creature penned up in a small outbuilding. As you might imagine, he doesn’t stay penned up for long. After an hour or so of circus-themed abuse and murder, the film climaxes with a big escape attempt, as the sheriff and the showgirls’ agent finally figure out what’s going on and all hell breaks loose.

TERROR CIRCUS is nowhere near as explicit or disturbing as it could be. Whether that’s a plus or minus is up to you. There are brief flashes of nudity and a reasonable amount of ketchup-like blood. There are also one or two satisfyingly meaty gore effects, thanks to Byrd Holland, who had recently handled the make-up effects for LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL, a film with comparable budgetary limitations but a more affecting atmosphere. According to Holland in the accompanying featurette, a few frames of gore had to be sacrificed in order to avoid an X-rating. Really, the most transgressive aspect of the film is the domination-of-women theme, which was hardly unique during this era. TERROR CIRCUS never quite gets humorous or even campy, at least not deliberately so, but it also never approaches the grim realism of a LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or the relentless intensity of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. True, the picture does achieve, at least at times, an off-kilter eeriness in keeping with the circus milieu. Much of this can be credited to the score by Tommy Vig (THEY CALL ME BRUCE?), which mixes free-form jazz with circus drumroll/oompah flourishes. Sometimes it works quite well, but there are many points in the picture when the score is trying so hard it becomes distracting.

Kino Lorber presents Code Red Video’s sharp, spotless scan with only one notable extra—an archival 24-minute interview featurette with a few members of the cast and crew. Every source seems to give a different time length for this picture. Here, Kino’s packaging gives it as 91 minutes, but the actual disk has an 84-minute cut. TERROR CIRCUS is probably worth a watch for the parts that do work, including the all-in performance from Andrew Prine, the goofy monster make-up and gore, and a certain degree of “let’s put on a show” low budget charm. And if you just like to see hippy chicks being terrorized, this one has a place on your shelf.




When he’s not casually shuffling across dry creek beds, Chris Herzog is a writer, researcher, and teacher. His film criticism can also be found in Screem magazine and back issues of the late, lamented Video WatcH*Dog.

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