This is without a doubt, one of the most inventive ways of dispatching a vampire I have ever seen. It’s set up cleverly in the movie, and is one of the few non-sunlight laissez faire methods shown in movies.
I’ve praised Vampire Circus before. The movie isn’t perfect (but might have been had Hammer Studios coughed up the entire budget), but it provides plenty of thrills, chills, and leaves a ton of bodies strewn across the floor at the climax. And believe me, they all got there in different, inventive ways– not everyone involved in the circus (such as the mute strongman played by Dave Prowse) is a vampire.
Anyway, the movie has a fantastic pre-credits sequence in which a woman named Anna has an affair with a vampire and feeds him children from her village. Her none-too-pleased husband leads a mob of villagers to the castle, where they stake the vampire (he is a count but not Dracula) and flog Anna. Her blood revives him enough to tell her to find his kinsman, Emil.
Sixteen years later the village is in the grip of a mysterious epidemic (which turns out to be rabies), though some of them think it is the Count’s curse. The doctor sneaks through the quarantine to get help from the university, and somehow a circus sneaks in. The terrified villagers go night after night, eager from any escape from the cycle of death– amazed by the handsome Emil who turns into a leopard, the naked female acrobat painted like a tiger, the ringmistress’ twin children, Michael the clown, and the strongman.
The female twin, Helga, at one point sticks her hand in the actual tiger’s mouth, and her brother Heinrich, feels the bite. And this sets up the climax. People began dying in very unnatural ways after the circus came to town. At first the ringmistress (who turns out to be Anna)’ animals were blamed, but at last people realized it was the supernatural, and the schoolmaster (the husband from earlier) tries his hand at vampire slaying, once again.
And here we get to the twins’ ingenious death. They are the Count’s children from the affair with Anna years before. Helga can be bitten by a tiger while her brother actually take the punishment. So what happens if you drive a stake through her heart?
The last part of the movie is a terrific fight– circus against a handful of villagers. Some of them are held at bay by garlic and crosses, but the clown, tiger-woman, ringmistress, and (most importantly) strongman are not. But the villagers don’t know who is and is not until it’s nearly too late, or too late in the case of a few. Then, at just the right moment, Helga takes a stake through the heart. Heinrich, who had been about to kill someone else, falls down with a gaping hole in his chest.
Director Robert Young set this up earlier in a creepy but ultimately funny way (Chekhov’s gun), and now it goes off in a violent, shocking way. And it winds up influencing the climax in another way. While Anna might have been willing to let the revived Count have her daughter with the schoolmaster before, having lost two of her children at one blow, she sacrifices herself rather than let all her children be killed. It might be a touch out of character, but she’s still crying for Heinrich and Helga, so it’s believable as an impulsive decision.
And it really sets off the resolution. The vampires need Anna, and the fact that she is killed marks a turning point in the fight. It also screws up the magic that was supposed to complete the Count’s revival. All in all, very smart.