- Berserk (1967) movie review: In this low-budget British thriller, Hollywood veteran Joan Crawford proves that she could still command the action, seduce hunks half her age, and look terrific while parading around in fishnet leggings. Now, is she also murdering her employees?
Berserk movie review: Joan Crawford circus thriller is a cross between the 1940s’ Woman’s Pictures & the 1960s’ Exploitation Horror Flicks
On the surface, Jim O’Connolly’s Berserk is a delightfully daffy freak show.
Underneath, this low-budget 1967 British thriller could play as a 1940s “woman’s picture”: Hard-as-nails (female) circus owner stops at nothing to get business for her show.
On top of that, the garish Technicolor, the cast of circus oddities, and the blood-and-gore narrative make Berserk an exploitation film.
One of the best.
Now, who’s being exploited?
Hollywood vet v British sexpot
Written by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel, Berserk wants us to suspect that Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford), a 60-something circus ringmistress in fishnet leggings, is behind some pretty gruesome activities for publicity purposes.
“Murder is good business,” someone says.
When not running the circus (and potentially murdering her employees), Monica is getting romanced by 30-something tightrope walker Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin), who apparently suffers from a mommy complex – besides having a sexy enough physique that nicely matches his portrayer’s sexually suggestive name.
There’s more: Monica must also cope with the tough-talking, catfighting stuntwoman Matilda (1950s sexpot Diana Dors), who packs a powerful wallop.
One more rotten daughter
And let’s not forget that Monica happens to have a rotten daughter, Angela (Judy Geeson), not too far away.
When Angela gets expelled from a private school (Chadwick, perhaps?) for disobedient behavior, Monica snaps, “You’ve always had a knack for causing trouble.”
In fact, just about everyone in Berserk gets to snarl at each other.
Monica, for one, gets to spit out lines like, “I’m running a circus, not a charm school!” besides getting to call Matilda a “slut,” quipping, “She’s attractive in a common sort of way.”
Now, there’s nothing common about Joan Crawford’s fantastic costumes: Lots of blinding-green suits, a blood-red cape, and the fishnet stockings mentioned further up. (Berserk’s costume designer: Jay Hutchinson Scott.)
And oh, what legs!
The ones that held her up for a helluva long time. After all, the former MGM and WB star had been in movies for more than four decades.
It just might be you
Personally, I think Berserk is one of the best films Joan Crawford made after Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. But be prepared to fast-forward through all those boring circus acts.
Pardon the bad pun, but watching poodles jumping rope could make anyone go berserk!
Having said that, don’t miss The Great Rivers Circus’ best act, which consists of the sideshow performers singing an ominous little ditty called “It Might Be You.”
Berserk (1967) cast & crew
Director: Jim O’Connolly.
Screenplay: Herman Cohen & Aben Kandel.
Cast: Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Diana Dors, Michael Gough, Judy Geeson, Robert Hardy, Geoffrey Keen, Sydney Tafler, George Claydon, Philip Madoc, Ambrosine Phillpotts, Marianne Stone.
Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson.
Film Editing: Raymond Poulton.
Music: John Scott.
Art Direction: Maurice Pelling.
Producer: Herman Cohen.
Production Company: Herman Cohen Productions.
Distributor: Columbia Pictures.
Running Time: 96 min.
Country: United Kingdom.
“Berserk (1967) Movie Review: Has Joan Crawford Been Murdering Her Circus Employees?” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Berserk (1967) Movie Review” endnotes
Released seven years after Sidney Hayers’ Circus of Horrors and the year after John Llewellyn Moxey’s Circus of Fear / Psycho-Circus, Berserk was known as Circus of Blood during production.
Berserk movie credits via the British Film Institute (BFI) website.
Ty Hardin and Joan Crawford Berserk movie image: Columbia Pictures.
“Berserk (1967) Movie Review: Has Joan Crawford Been Murdering Her Circus Employees?” last updated in January 2023.