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  Berserk Big Topped At The Big Top
Year: 1967
Director: Jim O'Connolly
Stars: Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Diana Dors, Michael Gough, Judy Geeson, Robert Hardy, Geoffrey Keen, Sydney Tafler, George Claydon, Philip Madoc, Ambrosine Phillpotts, Thomas Cimarro, Peter Burton, Golda Casimir, Ted Lune, Milton Reid, Marianne Stone
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford) is the head of a travelling circus visiting British cities and bringing a wealth of entertainment to the masses, but tonight something different is on the agenda. How about a spot of tragic death to go with that razzle dazzle? Coming right up, as tightrope walker The Great Gaspar gasps his last when the rope breaks and he is sent tumbling, though not before it catches around his neck and hangs him, is inert body swinging above the aghast big top crowd. Monica is briefly horrified, but then again shortly afterwards reasons that there's no such thing as bad publicity and hopes the tragedy raises the circus's profile...

If this is sounding familiar, then it might be down to a film from earlier in the nineteen-sixties called Circus of Horrors which also took as its premise some grisly murders at the circus, only that did it first, unless you counted the likes of Gorilla at Large. These two entries were British, of course, and both shared a distinctly camp quality which has audiences returning to them, not for chills and thrills but for a good laugh; the first movie had Anton Diffring as the star, which garnered some cult cachet, but producer Herman Cohen knew a cult icon when he saw one and hired a rich but professionally down on her luck Joan Crawford for his leading lady and that paid dividends, not least in her costuming.

Apparently Joan insisted on her own wardrobe, and one presumed her own makeup as well, so that screamingly tight bun she sported on her head went some way to providing a cheap if temporary facelift, all the better to look every bit the glamorous celeb that she was, and her fans expected: the still shapely gams were displayed as well. Cohen had evidently been watching another American schlock producer in William Castle, for they used the same actress as a name above the title draw in at least a couple of horror flicks, and Joan was she, indeed her last acting, aside from a little television work, was with Cohen in the infamously wretched Trog. As a writer, he would team up with Aben Kandel to test the boundaries of British censorship around the sixties, though Berserk never quite attained the same hilarity levels of Konga, possibly their masterpiece.

Well, I say masterpiece, it depends on how much roaring with mirth you want from your horror movies. Aside from a few sporadic shock scenes, this was more of a thriller than chiller, which left you tapping your fingers in anticipation of another cast member biting the dust, which may be literal when Monica comments on the ups and downs of the business that she's eaten caviar and eaten sawdust. How hard up do you have to be before you start munching on that? Just another example of the fitful lunacy of Berserk's script, which more played out as a forerunner of the sort of entertainment you'd find packing out eighties prime time American television soap opera: you could envisage Crawford giving another Joan a run for her money on Dynasty had she lasted that long.

In the meantime, you had to navigate your way through the supporting actors and try to work out who was the culprit, and who would be next. Needless to say, when revealed the murderer was such a preposterous choice making so little sense it was one to treasure for the bad movie buffs: was it company associate Michael Gough, one of Cohen's favourite actors? Nope, he gets a tent peg through the skull far too early in the proceedings. Cat-fighting magician's assistant Diana Dors, perhaps? She's too much of the diva when that's Joan's job, so perhaps not. Hunky replacement tightrope walker Ty Hardin, an actor who became notorious for being a mad racist in real life? Might make sense, but with the character's dodgy past possibly too obvious. Teenage tearaway daughter Judy Geeson? She's been away at boarding school for half the movie, so that's unlikely. You could go on, as the film does in fact with interminable padding from the circus acts ("intelligent poodles", anyone?) and even a truly dreadful musical number (Milton Reid singing?!). But it is funny. Music by John Scott.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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