Bringing back the Freak Show: The Circus of Horrors

With horror movies getting sicker and gorier by the minute (I’m looking at you, A Serbian Film), today’s modern desensitized audience can find comfort in the fact that all of the slashing and chopping is shielded safely behind the television screen. Such movies have taken centre stage in the horror world and as a result horror as a live performance art, from 19th century French theatre Grand Guignol to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, is slowly becoming a forgotten form of entertainment. However, The Circus of Horrors are bringing live horror back to life with their 15th anniversary tour across the UK, The Four Chapters of Hell.

The Circus of Horrors: No Chavs Allowed — Copyright of the Circus of Horrors

The Circus of Horrors have been touring the UK with The Four Chapters of Hell since last Halloween, and will continue the next leg of the tour starting in mid January and ending in March. More tongue-in-cheek than all-out gore, the show combines talented trapeze artists, blood-drenched freaks and gross-out tricks in a shocking spectacle that is split into four sections and suitably set to a rock and roll soundtrack devised by Doktor Haze.

Haze: The leather-clad Master of the Circus — Copyright of the Circus of Horrors

The Doktor speaks
Born and bred in a circus, Haze is the self-described ‘un-dead ringmaster’ and brains behind The Circus of Horrors, which was created in 1995 and began by touring festivals. Interestingly, Haze cites theatrical rock as his main influence in becoming a horror performer: “I’m interested more so in theatrical performance rather than horror. People like Alice Cooper are to blame for that!” In his role as ringmaster, he sings his own songs and “controls the chaos” around him. It is clear that The Circus of Horrors is just as much a musical extravaganza as it is a theatrical performance. Haze is aware that most horror fans are into rock music and saw the opportunity to combine the two. But he is quick to stress that it is no cheesy musical. “It’s an alternative rock and roll circus,” Haze states, and he describes the show’s music as ‘tuneful metal.’ “It’s as much like Rob Zombie as it is like T-Rex,” he exclaims, indicating that rock music fans of all ages will love the show’s soundtrack.

Check out some of the music from the show here

Horror does occasionally make it onto the stage today, one example being Ghost Stories, the show that is currently playing in The Duke of York’s theatre in London. But The Circus of Horrors is in a league of its own. “Horror performance isn’t easy to do,” Haze admits. This may be the reason why The Circus of Horrors remains on top of its game, with genuinely talented performers from trapeze artists to sword swallowers. “There are more people going to see it now than ever before,” Haze states proudly. Indeed, the anniversary show has received high praise. Maria Smallcombe, who saw the show at the Oakengates theatre in Shropshire, states, “I’ve watched Cirque du Soleil, and The Circus of Horrors is up on par with that.”

Talented twisting trapeze — Copyright of the Circus of Horrors

Horror brought to life
The show is split into four ‘chapters’, beginning in a lunatic asylum set in the 1800s and finishing with a futuristic vision of a world controlled by the undead. As a live performance art, The Circus of Horrors takes full advantage of what horror films are incapable of doing: literally interacting with the audience. Haze believes that theatre can often be 2-dimensional. “The Circus of Horrors is a 4-D experience,” Haze states. “Things change when you set things on different levels onstage and start using the audience in the performance.” The performers choose volunteers (or perhaps I should call them victims) to partake. Haze laughs as he admits that 98% of the audience are terrified of being picked, but that there’s nothing to be frightened of. Maria Smallcombe claims, “You never know what’s coming next, but it’s not hardcore horror.” As Haze says, “They want to be scared but not harmed. We turn horror, which is a negative thing, into a positive thing that they can laugh about afterwards.”

Not for the faint-hearted — Copyright of the Circus of Horrors

When asked about his favorite part of the show, Haze indicates that The Circus of Horrors saves the best for last. “Near the end, during the future part of the show, all of the acts come back together onstage doing their party piece,” Haze says. In this part of the show each act shows off their talent to extreme measures. The sword-swallower gets his hands on an electric drill, and the contortionist does some impressive tricks with a bow and arrow.

See the full list of The Circus of Horrors YouTube clips here including interviews with Richard and Judy and performances from previous shows.

The Circus of Horrors takes what is usually hidden behind television and movie screens and shoves it proudly in your face. Whether you’re looking for a visual spectacle, hoards of blood and gore or just want to be shocked out of your skin, then the Circus of Horrors will satisfy your horror cravings. Check out the tour dates for 2011 here.


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