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"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Sunday, July 4, 2010

50 Years Ago I Looked for a Star and Found a Circus of Horrors

When it comes to movies I can do without most mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, buddy movies and chick flicks. They don’t appeal to me nearly as much as small, character and dialogue driven indie films, especially those that explore the dark side of human nature.

During my boyhood in the 1950's I saw my share of cartoons, animated features and Disney programs. Movies like Casper the Friendly Ghost, Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi and Old Yeller are swell.

I liked G-rated entertainment, but for as long as I can remember I have been hooked on shock, thrills and horror. Following the lead of my older brother I developed an insatiable appetite for scary movies, scary television shows, and scary comic books.

Whenever I watch a horror or science fiction movie, I am silently pleading with the director, "Do it to me! Give it to me straight! Don’t hold back! Don’t pull any punches!”

Figure 3-D: Example of my kinda movie!
I was only three when my brother took me to see my first horror flick. It was 1953 and the movie was House Of Wax presented in 3-D. It starred Vincent Price, a fine and versatile actor who quickly became my favorite horror movie villain. Awestruck by my first exposure to big screen thrills, I clamored for more.

Figure DD: Another example of my kinda movie!
Me likey!

In 1960 at age 10, I went to see Circus of Horrors.

The British made suspense thriller turned out to be markedly different from any of the other horror films that I had seen up to that point.

It gave me my first exposure to a mature, adult-oriented horror film.

No flying saucers... no giant lizards or flesh eating blobs. Circus of Horrors was a slick, sophisticated, reality-based horror feature.

As a result, Circus of Horrors made a lasting impression on impressionable me.

Right or wrong, kids today become desensitized at an early age to violence, gore, adult situations and racy dialogue; but back in 1960 a movie like Circus of Horrors was was considered pretty intense stuff for a 10-year old.

It was chock-full of fantastic circus stunts gone bloody wrong...

Oops!!! Boy, I’d love to have that one back!

and voluptuous beauties in peril. Me likey!

In June of 1960, two months after Circus of Horrors hit theaters...

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was released, opening the floodgates of modern reality moviemaking...

replete with antiheroes, graphic violence with consequences, and unhappy endings.

Mama…welcome to the 60s!

The theme song from Circus of Horrors, “Look for a Star,” began playing on the radio shortly after the movie shocker became a hit at the box office. Considerable confusion resulted from the simultaneous release of the song on two different labels by two different artists with nearly identical names!

One version of "Look for a Star" was performed by Nashville's Garry Miles (Buzz Cason) and released on Liberty Records. The other version was credited to British pop singer Garry Mills and released on Imperial. Note that there are two R's in both Garrys. It was also hard to distinguish between the two versions because they sounded remarkably similar. Seems to me that somebody had the makings of a lawsuit! Both records entered the Billboard Hot 100 at exactly the same time - the last week of June.

The version of "Look for a Star" released by Garry Miles (& the Statues) was a bit more buttery and wound up the more successful of the two singles in America.

The Miles record remained on the Billboard chart for 13 weeks and cracked the top 20, reaching #16.

The Garry Mills recording lasted 11 weeks on Billboard and finished at #26 while hitting #7 on the UK Singles Chart back home.

One of the things that impressed me most about Circus of Horrors was the juxtaposition of beauty and terror, a device that maximized suspense by producing a visceral and almost unbearable sense of dread.

When the safe, wholesome, pretty facade of a family friendly attraction like the circus is peeled away like the superficial layer of plastic surgery that conceals mutilated faces...

...we find lurking beneath a cesspool of lust, greed, cruelty, treachery and murder. Me likey!

During the course of the film, the theme song “Look for a Star” underwent a contextual shift. It was transformed from a gentle love song into a harbinger of impending doom.

50 years after first experiencing Circus of Horrors, I still get a chill every time I hear “Look for a Star.”

The song will forever be a disturbing reminder of spectacular towering terror under the big top...of a string of gruesome freak accidents that weren't accidents at all... of vile and evil deeds perpetrated by a sadistic, power hungry madman run amok...a man whose lust, as the promotional tag line suggests, made men into beasts and stripped women of their souls!

(But then likey!)

Have a Shady day!

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