TERROR CIRCUS (1973) Blu-ray
Director: Alan Rudolph
Code Red DVD

A prime example of cheap, independently produced fodder aimed at the undemanding 1970s drive-in audiences, BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD is also more appropriately known under its original title and the one presented here on this Blu-ray; TERROR CIRCUS. Also known as CAGED WOMEN and NIGHTMARE CIRCUS, there’s no “dead” (as in "living dead") and not much naked. The film’s credited director is one Alan Rudolph, a protégé of Robert Altman who went on to have a prominent career and has pretty much disowned this bleak maiden effort ever since.

Three attractive showgirls (Manuela Thiess, Sherry Alberoni, Gyl Roland) are en route to Las Vegas when their Ford station wagon breaks down in the middle of the highway somewhere in the Nevada desert. The next morning, a seemingly pleasant fellow named Andre (Andrew Pine, CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD) offers to help out and gives them a ride back to his homestead, which accommodates a lofty barn. In actuality, Andre is a disturbed (and apparently contaminated) individual with a sorted history, so he imprisons the trio of travelers in the barn, chained up with a handful of other young ladies who have crossed his path. The women are treated like pets in a circus (he has an number of caged zoo animals as well), and to make the situation even wackier, since the barn is right next to a nuclear test site, Andre’s father (played by producer Gerald Cormier) is a raging killer mutant who is kept locked up in a tiny shed and is periodically let loose.

Bargain basement, bizarre, misogynistic, ludicrous and at times satirical, TERROR CIRCUS is the kind of movie that’s over before you’ve had any time to really think about it. The star of the film, Andrew Prine, was at the time in a succession of horror and exploitation roles, convincingly playing nutcases in SIMON KING OF THE WITCHES and THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS, so it’s no surprise to see him here dressing up like a ringmaster, taunting helpless scantily clad dames with leopards and boa constrictors, and whipping them relentlessly as they crawl about dog-collared like animals – in other words, this is a must-see for Prine fans.

With brief glimpses of gore, and even briefer glimpses of female nudity, the film is padded with Andre having delusions that one of the imprisoned women is his long lost mother (who apparently skipped town after his father’s unfortunate “accident”), failed attempted escapes by the hapless prisoners, and the subplot of an overly concerned agent (played by Chuck Niles, “Ivan” the black-coated zombie from Jerry Warren’s TEENAGE ZOMBIES) desperately searching for his three missing showgirl clients. Jennifer Ashley (THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS, TINTORERA, INSEMINOID), a drive-in movie queen in her own right, can be seen as a hippyish, spaced out captive. Byrd Holland and Douglas J. White, who worked together on the low budget vampire masterwork LEMORA around the same period, are responsible for the assorted gore effects and the mutated dad monster make-up, which emerges effectively as seen here in this extremely clear transfer.

Previously available through on DVD under the “Barn” title through Legend House and then a much better-looking Media Blasters/Code Red DVD, Code Red now revisits the film on Blu-ray from a brand new HD master from the original camera negatives. Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p, TERROR CIRCUS looks strikingly better than ever before, with the original elements being in pristine condition. Detail is very crisp and colors are bright and distinct, with fleshtones looking realistic, grain structure looking pleasing and black levels being deep. The daytime outdoor scenes especially look scrumptious here, and the enhanced quality definitely adds something to any aesthetic value the film might have, especially when we get a good look at the mutant monster during the climax. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is perfectly clear with no noticeable setbacks.

Although the Media Blasters/Code Red disc had an audio commentary with makeup FX artists Douglas White and Byrd Holland, that extra has not been picked up for the Blu-ray. But we do get to see White and Holland interviewed for a 24-minute retrospective featurette entitled, “Barn Again: Returning to the Terror Circus” (which was available on the previous DVD), and it also includes costume and wardrobe man Allan Apone, actress Jennifer Ashley and (through a series of audio sound bites) associate producer Marvin Almeas. The general consensus of the interviews dictates that the film was fun to make and that lead actor Prine was a pleasure to work with, and that director Rudolph was creative and actually cared about the project (though he left the film before it was completed). Both White and Holland discuss the make-up procedures involved, including what had to be censored to get an R rating. Katarina Leigh Waters does an optional “Katarina’s Bucketlist” into and outro for the film, dressed as a circus ringleader and sharing various factoids about the film, including that the uncredited editor also worked on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. (George R. Reis)