The Last Circus (2010)
By: Sam Bowron on August 14, 2012  | 
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Spanish DD 5.1 | 101 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: ┴lex de la Iglesia
Starring: Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, Carolina Bang
Screenplay: ┴lex de la Iglesia
Country: Spain
External Links
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It probably wouldn't occur to the majority of the uninitiated but many horror films can also be considered love stories. For example, if Dracula were never in pursuit of Lucy, who then would he lust for? Had the parents of Elm Street never incinerated Freddy Krueger, for whom would he have shared his sadistic sexualizing for but Nancy? Even the mad Dr. Heiter fell head over heels in tears at the mere sight of his human centipede creation. These obsessions and countless others not only prove the genre's inherent capacity for the romantic parable, they also serve to highlight the somewhat superficial values embedded within the more widely accepted Hollywood cinematic tradition.

Set against the backdrop of the rise and fall of the Spanish Civil War comes one of the most feverishly passionate love stories this reviewer has ever seen - Alex de la Iglesia's blackly comedic horror movie The Last Circus. The film is a tale of melodramatic romance in the truest sense, albeit one of extreme violence and unbridled cartoonish mayhem. If lust and desire were to ever drive one to commit murder it would likely be those among us trying the hardest to disguise it. You guessed it: clowns.

The film opens upon a war-ravaged Spanish town in 1937 as a pair of clowns entertain a small audience of children in a make shift theatre. The show is swiftly cut down when an army officer and his squad rudely interrupt the performance, forcibly enlisting the gentleman playing the 'Happy Clown' to join their cause and serve in combat, a battle that eventually sees the child entertainer captured and held hostage by the Franco regime. The man's orphaned son, Javier, soon finds him and pledges his desire to follow in his father's footsteps and become a clown himself. Flash-forward to the early 70s with the Franco regime in decline, a rather portly Javier (Carlos Areces) aka the 'Sad Clown', toils away frustratingly under the tyrannical power of local circus head honcho Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), known to paying customers as the 'Happy Clown'. Clearly two men of opposing values, they soon find themselves fighting for the affections of Sergio's gorgeous wife Natalia (Carolina Bang), an acrobat trapped in an abusive yet strangely compulsive relationship. But just how far will each man go to prove their love?

It is within Javier and Sergio's declaration of blind admiration that The Last Circus shows its true face and thus its unique sensibility for the horrific. From start to finish the film is baroque, absurd, outlandish and endlessly striking with regard to almost every aspect of its storytelling, never dwelling for a moment in the niceties of the understated or the restrained. The sheer craftsmanship and visual splendor on display - a bizarre amalgamation of theatrical grandiosity and garish surrealism - is truly impressive and remains remarkably organic throughout. Never does this approach come across as overwrought or intrusive upon the overall narrative. If you were to imagine the Three Stooges were set loose and asked to join a travelling insane asylum, you might get an idea of the film's visual makeup.

But don't be fooled, for this is also a film with genuine dramatic heart and a sincere respect for the emotional development of its characters, so much so that the entire symbolism of the story rests upon their shoulders; much like a Shakespearean tragedy. Even though they are primarily archetypal in nature they still manage to engage, even surprise on a consistent basis. Furthermore, just like any great piece of literature, Iglesia infuses The Last Circus with several representations of historical significance, namely the use of the clowns as opposing sides of the Civil War. Whilst sharing a common goal driven by a passion and belief in their cause, Javier and Sergio are terminally doomed to fail, even when they think they've succeeded. Violence begets violence and not even a clown can change that!

One must not forget The Last Circus is also breathtakingly aggressive and very much a horror film, possessing a particular lurid energy with regard to the depiction of its bloodshed. The combat massacre that opens the film is extravagantly brutal, complimented and in many ways outdone by the ensuing chaos that is the battle of the two antagonists. The juvenile jokesters mutilate their visages to the point of disfigurement, adorning themselves in hideous clothing and vicious weaponry, intent on tearing each other to pieces. No punch is spared, no slash is covered - no bullet misses its target of flesh. When all is said and done the town is splattered with crimson and all that's left is utter madness. It's safe to say fans of visceral genre set pieces will not be disappointed.

It may sound as if The Last Circus is some arthouse filmmaker's idea of a 'serious' genre film, and to a certain extent it is. However, it's also a fantasy with a level of intensity and confidence that make it something undeniably special indeed. The performances are astonishingly committed, the central drama is emotionally palpable and the movie's overall flair of the macabre makes the outcome of every scene endlessly entertaining. It's also a darkly tragic tale of unrequited love and much like the old Universal monster movies, it stands as a wounded reminder that even the most disturbing horror films of our time still grasp a beating heart inside their chest.
The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and looks absolutely stunning. The rich visuals of the film, including high contrast near-monochrome sequences as well as eye-popping scenes saturated in primary colors are beautifully transferred on the disc and reach a degree of clarity rarely seen in many new releases. In short: sit back and enjoy the twisted splendor on display.
Many films that deal with complex action sequences often suffer severe problems in the mixing stage. Thankfully that's not the case here and both the English and Spanish 5.1 Dobly tracks are well catered for. With that said, the Spanish audio track with accompanying subtitles is by far the recommended listening/viewing option, as it should be for all foreign language films.
Extra Features
An international trailer. Disappointing.
The Verdict
The Last Circus is many things. Unhinged. Maniacal. Boisterous. It's also surprisingly affecting. Recommended.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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