Berserk! (1967): Crawford’s British Horror Thriller

One of the most commercially successful British horror thrillers of the 1960s, Berserk! (aka Circus of Blood) is a mother-daughter melodrama, written by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandeland, and directed by Jim O’Connoly.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)


Original theatrical poster

In a career spanning four decades, Berserk! marks the second-to-last big-screen role of Joan Crawford, who renders a forceful and authoritative performance..

Crawford plays Monica Rivers a strong, powerful ring mistress, who owns a traveling circus, with business manager Albert Dorando (Michael Gough).

When tight trope Gaspar the Great falls to his death, Monica’s cold reaction to the tragedy alarms Dorando.  He asks her to buy him out, but she refuses.

Monica hires a new high-wire walker, Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin), a handsome and daring acrobat. When Dorando is found murdered, Monica is the prime suspect. Frank, who saw her leaving Dorando’s trailer, tries to blackmail her, promising silence for a share in the circus.

Having been expelled from school, Monica’s daughter Angela (Judy Geeson) shows up at the circus, and mom pairs her with Gustavo the knife thrower (Peter Burton).  Another member of the circus company, Matilda (Diana Dors), attempts to seduce Frank, which Monica finds out.

During Matilda’s act, there is a malfunction in the equipment and she is killed. Then, during next high-wire performance, Frank falls onto the bayonets and is killed.

The tale takes a silly and simplistic psychologistic turn. Angela, seen throwing a knife into him, confesses: She has hated her mom for neglecting her, and “removing” those who take up her mother’s time is her way of dealing with the problem.

In the end, she tries to kill her mother, but while escaping, she is electrocuted and dies.



Directed by Jim O’Connolly
Produced by Herman Cohen
Written by Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel
Music by John Scott
Cinematography Desmond Dickinson
Edited by Raymond Poulton
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: September 1967 (UK); January 11, 1968 (US)

Running time: 96 minutes
Box office $3,195,000

Joan Crawford as Monica Rivers
Ty Hardin as Frank Hawkins
Diana Dors as Matilda
Michael Gough as Albert Dorando
Judy Geeson as Angela Rivers
Robert Hardy as Detective Supt. Brooks
Geoffrey Keen as Commissioner Dalby
Sydney Tafler as Harrison Liston
George Claydon as Bruno Fontana
Philip Madoc as Lazlo
Ambrosine Phillpotts as Miss Burrows
Thomas Cimarro as Gaspar
Peter Burton as Gustavo
Golda Casimir as Bearded Lady
Ted Lune as Skeleton Man
Milton Reid as Strong Man
Marianne Stone as Wanda
Miki Iveria as Gypsy Fortune-Teller
Howard Goorney as Emil
Reginald Marsh as Sergeant Hutchins
Bryan Pringle as Constable Bradford