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Blue Underground continues their Harry Alan Towers Blu-ray double-feature series (see my review of The Million Eyes of Sumuru/Girl from Rio double-feature review here) with a pair of pulpy thrillers based on the writings of Edgar Wallace – John Llewellyn Moxey’s Circus of Fear (aka: Circus of Terror and Psycho-Circus, 1966) and Jeremy Summers’ Five Golden Dragons (1967).

Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

Circus of Fear


What begins as a daring daylight armored car heist on London's Tower Bridge leads to a sinister circus where a disfigured lion tamer (Christopher Lee) is one of several suspects in a three-ring nightmare of red herrings, grisly 'accidents' and cold-blooded murder. (From Blue Underground’s official synopsis)

Based on Wallace’s novel The Three Just Men from the author’s The Four Just Men (published 1905) series (I am unfamiliar with these particular books, so I don’t know its place in the series), Circus of Fear was written by Towers himself. Despite the horror-baiting title, it is a pretty traditional cops ‘n robbers tale that thrives by placing the second and third acts in the unusual environment of a travelling circus. The plot twists are predictable, but rarely boring, thanks to strong performances and direction. The Argentinian-born John Llewellyn Moxey found a comfortable place directing television throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Before Circus of Fear, he proved his horror capabilities when he made City of the Dead (aka: Horror Hotel, 1960) – a silly, but incredibly atmospheric thriller that also stars Christopher Lee. Circus of Fear isn’t really a horror movie, so he’s unable to use most of those skills here, but it does have a convincing run-and-gun dynamic that predates popular ‘70s crime thrillers (specifically stuff like William Friedkin’s The French Connection, 1971). Between rather dry scenes of police investigating and criminals scheming, he squeezes a beautifully orchestrated heist, a thrilling countryside car chase, and some delightfully melodramatic circus mayhem. The Wallace connection, which I suppose was a selling point in the late ‘60s (especially in the UK), is outweighed by the exciting calibre of the cast, including the always commanding (even in junky Harry Alan Towers movies) Lee, matinee-idol-turned-B-star Leo Genn, certifiable madman Klaus Kinski (who successfully glares his way through the entire film), British bombshell Margaret Lee, and giallo princess Suzy Kendall.

Apparently, Circus of Fear has questionable copyright history, because it was released on budget DVD releases via Madacy Entertainment and Brentwood. These versions were shorn of eight minutes, cropped to 1.33:1, and presented in black & white, despite Moxey shooting the film in full colour. Blue Underground stepped in with an anamorphic and colour release in 2003. According to specs, their Blu-ray is another step up, replacing that acceptable transfer with a new 2K scan of the original colour negative. The resulting 1.66:1 HD transfer is mostly great, especially in terms of colour quality. Neutral hues, like locations and skin tones are natural and consistent, and the brighter colours of the circus sets are poppy without notable bleeding. While elemental separation, black purity, and general clarity are well beyond a DVD capabilities, there are some fuzzy details throughout the transfer, as well as minor posterisation effects. Given the general lack of grain (outside of some of the circus sequences, which were shot under limited light circumstances), I think it’s safe to assume that the disc’s producers leaned on the DNR button just a little too hard. Print damage artefacts are minimal, possibly due to DNR. The most notable imperfections are a few chemical stains and skinny vertical streaks.

The original mono soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 2.0 and the results are about as robust as we can expect from the material. Dialogue is clear with only minimal hiss and basic effects are clean, despite being cramped into a flat, single-channel space. Johnny Douglas, the future mastermind of the Transformers and G.I. Joe animated series music, supplies an over-the-top (sometimes abrasively so) score with a truly memorable central theme. The lack of compression helps ensure that the shrillest notes aren’t distorted and only slightly tinny in tone.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director John Moxey, moderated by David Gregory from Blue Underground – Gregory does a solid job running the modest and charming director through a series of prompts and questions in this holdover from Blue Underground’s original DVD release. The content alternates between screen-specific commentary and tales from behind-the-scenes, while Gregory fills in some of the cast & crew histories when the momentum ebbs.
  • International and US trailers in both colour and B&W
  • Poster & still gallery


 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature


Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

Five Golden Dragons


After arriving in Hong Kong, wealthy American playboy Bob Mitchell is the recipient of a strange note found on the body of a dead man. A clue to an illegal gold-trafficking operation, Mitchell is unwittingly thrust into a deadly power struggle between a secretive global crime syndicate and brutal local mobsters. Can he survive long enough to unmask the mysterious Five Golden Dragons? (From Blue Underground’s official synopsis)

The second movie in this double-feature set, Five Golden Dragons, is more in line with Harry Alan Towers’ groovy, post-Yellow Menace pulp pictures, like Girl from Rio and the Christopher Lee-starring Fu Manchu revival series. Towers penned the script under the pseudonym ‘Peter Welbeck’ and based it loosely on Wallace’s Sanders book series ( Sanders of the River was first published in 1911). Similar to The Million Eyes of Sumuru and other Eurospy spoofs, the tone of this modernized version of the story struggles between adventure and comedy, and spins its wheels during the middle act. Like Moxey, director Jeremy Summers spent most of his career working for television, but he also directed one entry in the Fu Manchu franchise ( The Vengeance of Fu Manchu, 1968). While he struggles to maintain the fevered pace that the screenplay seems to require, his work on Five Golden Dragons is dependable and features some solid foot, rickshaw, and boat chases. There is some messy editing throughout – missing shots, awkward transitions, and minor continuity errors – that I assume are due to bad/limited coverage. Such issues may have been outside of Summers’ control. Semi-bland lead Robert Cummings (who is too old for the role, but adds a little something in the form of ad-libs) fronts a to-die-for cast that includes Circus of Fear holdovers Christopher Lee (in a pretty small role), Klaus Kinski, and Margaret Lee, as well as Hammer and Roger Corman standby Rupert Davies, Jess Franco favourite Maria Rohm, and classic Hollywood gangster George Raft. This particular film was produced with assistance from Shaw Brothers Studios, which may explain the relatively respectful treatment of the Hong Kong-sourced supporting cast. Chinese co-star Roy Chiao is particularly good as the film’s moral center, who maintains dignity as his European counterparts ham it up.

Five Golden Dragons was released on Italian DVD by Passworld, German DVD by Koch, and British DVD by Network, but it never saw digital release in the US, which is why Blue Underground is releasing this Blu-ray double-feature debut alongside a single movie DVD version of Summers’ film. The press release and box art states that this 2.35:1, 1080p transfer has been remastered from the original uncut negative, though apparently not in 2K. Again, colour quality is very strong, which is good, because Five Golden Dragons is a flashy and vibrant movie. Edges are tight and there’s a lot of dynamic range, even during low-light situations. There are some DNR artefacts, though, this time, they seem to have been employed to correct telecine scan noise. This creates some banding/posterisation issues and leaves close-up textures sort of fuzzy (there are a handful of downright blurry shots, but I believe these are focal problems). Fortunately, its wide-angle backgrounds and textures are neatly separated and, though some of these screen caps appear drastic, the artefacts really aren’t very distracting.

The original mono score, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, is less consistent than its Circus of Fear counterpart, likely due to the fact that so much of the sound was clearly dubbed in post. Environmental sound effects are extremely thin, often including only the most basic foley work (stuff like car engines and churning sea water). Dialogue is often muffled, specifically set-captured performances. Malcolm Lockyer’s slightly Oriental-tinged pop score fares better than the other aural elements.

Extras include:
  • Trailers
  • Poster & still gallery


 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature

 Edgar Wallace Double-Feature


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