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Comments of mine made strictly concerning the picture quality, made for the PQ Tiers thread. It should be almost a requirement that every vintage horror fan go out and buy this great Blu-ray.
recommendation: Tier 3.25
Synapse Films has lovingly brought the 1971 Hammer production, Vampire Circus, to new heights of glory on Blu-ray. Released just last month on a BD-50, the 87-minute Gothic horror is encoded in AVC at a generous video-only average of 30.01 Mbps. Presented in a 1.66:1 presentation that restores for the first time its original theatrical framing seen in Europe, the transfer looks sourced from high-quality elements in excellent condition. For a small distributor, Synapse Films has greatly surpassed expectations in the picture quality for this cult movie, and puts some of the work from the major studios to shame.
Grain does play a role in this film's image, though the video encode handles it flawlessly. Looking for evidence of macroblocking or artifacting problems, even during the more demanding scenes with flames and explosions, the image was entirely devoid of such distractions. A solid amount of high-frequency detail and information is apparent at times, but not uniformly present. Part of that may be due to the optics and original filming. Certain sections, notably the first reel of the film, appear to have been processed with a bit of digital grain reduction. Nothing too drastic, but either the makeup was inconsistently applied during the course of production, or some early sections of the transfer have had minor processing applied in some way. Some faint, low-amplitude ringing also pops up, only to disappear or recede in magnitude as the film progresses. Neither annoyances really do anything to diminish the image to any significant degree and largely vanish in the last hour.
One area that the picture excels in, particularly for an older film, are the nice black levels and easily discerned shadow detail. This is important for a movie that a substantial portion takes place at night. Outside of one or two questionable moments in nearly pitch-black light, scenes like the panther's black fur display excellent delineation and a level of detail that is quite high. The image also possesses a heightened sense of depth over many other catalog films, though I would not quite call it pop or dimensional. Better moments might be rated in the middle of Tier Two, alongside newer movies, if there had been more consistency.
Expecting dull, faded colors due to the film's age and obscurity, in actuality primary colors are deep and vivid in this transfer. Red blood obviously plays a huge role in the film, looking bright and fully saturated. Contrast is decent given the generally dark atmosphere of the settings. The color timing pays respect to the conventions of the era it was made, not straying far from the balanced and conservative look. Outside of a few optical composite effects that look dated now, the source looks clean and stable, as if the transfer was struck from a very good negative or possibly interpositive. Only a handful of thin, short scratches briefly appear to remind one that Vampire Circus was filmed many years ago. The general resolution and clarity is good, only dipping in a few spotty moments of focus.
Fans and newcomers will find little wrong with the quality seen in the image, especially those familiar with films of similar vintage. Source limitations dating back to the Seventies prevent a higher placement for the most part, but the transfer has given new life to one of the more obscure Hammer films. While certain extended moments deserve a higher placement, in the end a ranking in Tier 3.25 for Vampire Circus is a good representation of the overall quality.