Berserk (1967)
Directed by Jim OConnolly

Starring Joan Crawford Michael Gough Ty Hardin

The psycho child abuser Joan Crawford had to star in colorful clunkers like this as she approached her autumn years—and that's good news for bad movie fans or followers of the cult classic "Mommie Dearest." This role actually seems to strangely mirror aspects of her own life, as chronicled in that kiss-and-tell autobiography by her adopted daughter.

Crawford plays an independent woman running a circus. The only problem is she doesn't know what to do when a murderer goes berserk (hence the title) and starts killing performers. In fact, she even seems to relish the attention her circus is getting, as ticket sales seem to go up with each death. A British inspector shows up to try to solve the mystery. For some reason, it doesn't occur to anyone to shut down the circus until the killer is caught.

They used to show this on "Creature Features," that crazy late-night horror show that used to be on Channel 2 in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the 1970s. "Berserk" is actually a pretty fun film, and one of the first to make "creative deaths" the major part of its appeal. The film opens with a high-wire act going terribly wrong, when the wire breaks and the performer's neck somehow gets entangled in it on his way down. Michael Gough (as Crawford's early love interest) has a spike hammered through his head. Another "saw the lady in half" act misfires in a predictable way. The film is genuinely suspenseful, because you don't know what circus act is going to end in a death and which one isn't.

Crawford's older circus head falls for a younger man (the replacement high-wire artist) who seems to be angling for her business. He just one of many suspects that are thrown at us. Red herrings abound. The ending is somewhat surprising, if sudden. All in all, "Berserk" is a fun, trashy late '60s fear film. The circus always makes for a good horror setting. Director O'Connolly directed the even trashier "Tower of Evil" a few short years later.

Surprisingly, as of 2008, the film hasn't been released on DVD.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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