Review: Berserk

Blu-ray: Berserk (1967)

Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford) is the owner and ringmaster of a travelling circus, and is always looking for ways to get bigger audiences to the shows.

When a series of ‘accidents’ happen in which some of the performers are killed, the takings rise as people are drawn to the circus wondering (hoping!) if more accidents will occur.

Monica hires the handsome Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin); a high-wire walker whom she starts an affair with. This leads to jealousy from her former lover Albert Dorando (Michael Gough), who is soon found dead in mysterious circumstances.

The circus performers suspect Monica of being behind the deaths, and they are led in their suspicions by Matilda (Diana Dors), who has desires for Frank and wants Monica out of the way.

When Monica’s daughter Angela (Judy Geeson) appears at the circus, she is given a role as the assistant to the knife thrower. Will she be the next to be killed?

Beserk has a certain charm to it that draws you in, and Joan Crawford once again overacts her way through the entire movie, much like she did in the recently reviewed Straight-Jacket. She is always watchable though.

Much of the running time of Berserk is taken up with footage from circus acts as it was filmed at Billy Smarts circus (a circus very popular at the time). Performing poodles, elephants stepping over people, and lions being forced to do tricks are now (thankfully) not a part of modern day circus life, but here they take centre stage and a hell of a lot of the running time.

A few red herrings try to throw you off guessing who the murderer is and the ending seems quite abrupt.

As a curiosity piece to circus life back then, a moderate ‘whodunnit’, and another scenery chewing performance by Joan Crawford, Berserk is well worth watching.

• High Definition remaster
• Original mono audio
The BFI interview with Joan Crawford (1956)
• Audio commentary with film historians Lee Gambin and Eloise Ross
Pamela Hutchinson on Joan Crawford (2018)
Jonathan Rigby on ‘Berserk’ (2018): a new appreciation by the author of American Gothic: Six Decades of Classic Horror Cinema
Didier Chatelain on Herman Cohen (2018): an interview with producer Cohen’s assistant and business partner
Tom Baker’s Beyond Belief! VHS Introduction(1997)
Tom Baker’s Beyond Belief! Outtakes (1997)
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited Edition exclusive booklet containing a new essay by Josephine Botting, archival interviews, historic articles, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits
• UK premiere on Blu-ray
• Limited Edition of 3,000 copies

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Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.