Every once in a while, a film comes along that simply defies expectations, and yet still manages to slip under the radar. While not strictly a horror film, The Last Circus (or Balada triste de trompeta) contains enough horrific elements to earn it a place in the annals of terror. From machete-wielding cross-dressing clowns to brutal trumpet murders, The Last Circus is anything but unoriginal.

The film follows a bizarre and unfortunate love triangle in a Spanish circus involving two clowns and a trapeze artist. Echoing Alejandro Jodorowsky’s magnum opus Santa Sangre, the plot takes grisly twists and turns that keep the audience on edge throughout. Gorehounds will find plenty to love in this twisted romance as the cast steadily declines into insanity, resulting in a handful of visually stunning acts of violence (the most memorable being Javier’s self-inflicted transformation).

That’s not to say that the film is without its faults, however. With so much content in the script, the film suffers from a distinct lack of breathing room. Cutaways between scenes oftentimes leave a lot to be explained, sometimes jumping days at a time with little or no indication, leaving the audience to fend for themselves. Additionally, some of the grander scenes in the movie called for more special effects than the crew could afford, resulting in some laughable special effects. These shortcomings, especially the former, do manage to harm to movie in places, but the overall presentation manages to come out on top in the end.

A word of warning before any further recommendation: the focus of The Last Circus is not on scares or brutality, but on telling a story. A thoughtful movie from beginning to end, the various shockers and oddities in the film serve to move the plot along rather than to please a blood hungry audience. Regardless, The Last Circus is an unappreciated gem that deserves a watch from anyone thirsty for something different.

Written and Directed by Álex de la Iglesia

Starring Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, and Carolina Bang