Welcome back to my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! Circuses are often used in shows and movies because they often have a colorful cast of characters and an almost other worldly atmosphere. But for all the people who enjoy the circus, there have been just as many who dismiss them. Today’s tale features a man who considers them nothing but nonsense. This is “The Circus.”
Mr. Bragg is a newspaper reporter who seeks out sideshows and charlatans to debunk them for profit. His most recent target is a circus owned by Dr. Nis that claims to have exhibits like a werewolf, a mummy and a vampire, to name a few. When the two meet, Dr. Nis is adamant in proving his exhibits are real and allows Bragg to watch a performance. Of course, Bragg is quick to dismiss the show as being a technical marvel but still fake. Is Dr. Nis pulling a con, or is there more than enough merit to the circus’s authenticity?
I really enjoyed this episode, though it helps that I’ve always been fascinated by the circus. This episode is simple and straightforward in plot and execution, but it’s done in a way that didn’t make me feel bored. Nearly every line of dialogue is spoken back and forth between Bragg and Dr. Nis, but it does a good job setting up the difference between someone who believes in what a circus represents versus someone who has become jaded to the whole circus experience. Belief in the mystical is ultimate moral to this story, and I thought it was handled just right.
I felt that the two characters were pretty solid here. Bragg only does what he does for the money first and personal gratification second. I can’t say he’s a complete jerk, as you can see where he’s coming from and he also gets a fair moment where he lashes out at Dr. Nis for showing such horrific imagery to young children. Dr. Nis is a kinda creepy but wise sort of ring leader, and while I’m not sure if what transpires at the end was his ultimate goal, he did seem to genuinely want to turn Bragg’s opinion of his circus around. The only major issue I had with him was the heavy accent he has, which made it tough at times to understand what he was saying.
Since this is a circus involving monsters, there’s also some make-up here. I thought most of it looked pretty good except for a painfully obvious dummy during a part involving a zombie and the vampire’s look. While the general design of it was of the more Nosferatu kind, they made it look almost like its skin was melting off or something. It was a weird design choice that took away some of its creep factor for me. Honestly, another reason I found this episode enjoyable was because of the monsters. While it’s a bit cliched by now to toss in every classic monster, I liked seeing them represented here. This is the kind of circus I wouldn’t mind checking out if one existed.
This is an episode where the twist literally comes during the last shot. Before that, everything that happened felt pretty natural. Bragg gets a bit of comeuppance for his generally bad attitude, though his punishment felt a little bit cruel. Still, it served the purpose of the moral and was well done.
I can already say that I’d highly recommend “The Circus.” The story’s not complex, but it’s the kind of dark, moody story I expected to come out this show. The dialogue is pretty solid, once again done by George Romero, and the combination of a circus and classic horror monsters was fun to see. If you’re looking for a way to jump into this show, this episode might just be one of the best places to start.