director Alan Rudolph
By any name, Nightmare Circus is an exploitation horror film at odds with itself. Featuring a lone kook (Andrew Prine, probably the best thing in the film) who abducts young women, whom he sees as “animals”, for an exotic circus, the movie could easily wound up one of the weirdest and most outrageous of its time. The concept is there.
He keeps the women in a barn, chained by the neck, fed like pigs. At one point, he attempts to teach one woman to be like a snake and has her cavort with some type of constrictor. He’s obsessed with his dead mama (like many a movie maniac) and has grand plans that are never fully explained.
There is also a sense that nuclear radiation has had some effect on him and his dear mutant papa, too.
An independent production, Nightmare Circus (or if you will Terror Circus or even The Barn of the Naked Dead) was directed by Alan Rudolph who would go on to make Choose Me (1984), Trouble in Mind (1985), The Moderns (1988) and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994). And it seems that Parker or maybe others helming the picture alongside him, just weren’t as committed to perversity (and potentially misogyny) as one needed to in order to deliver this kind of film with conviction. Give this film to Herschell Gordon Lewis and you’ve probably got another notorious classic. Maybe less well-produced, but probably a lot more entertaining.
And that’s the upshot here.