It is a known fact that many of us here at the Midnight Society have a love of things both dark and circusy. So, submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call my favorite dark circus movie you’ve never heard of:
Helena’s family owns and performs in “The Campbell Family Circus: The Best Little Bigtop Alive”. But it may not be alive for much longer. Helena’s mother has fallen suddenly sick and is in the hospital, and the rest of the cast is mutinying, ready to flee for other circuses. Then a strange alleyway performance one night draws Helena out of her aunt’s apartment and into danger as two of her performer friends are consumed by “the shadows”, and she is forced to flee with a masked stranger into a mysterious world as designed by Dave McKean.
With surrealist settings including one made of magnified flea legs to look like tree trunks, and human-faced sphinxes threatening to devour her “bones and all”, Helena must stay one step ahead of the shadows, and the Dark Queen who has put out a reward for Helena to capture her as a stand-in for her missing daughter. And while Helena would like to pretend “this is all just a stupid dream”, there’s an unsettling doppelganger she can see through the windows, who is taking over her old life, fighting with her father, and slowly destroying the world that Helena now finds herself in.
Right now I know there are society members asking why this is the first they’ve heard of this film, and rightly so. Mirrormask came out in limited release in 2005, and you pretty much had to be a fan of Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, or the Jim Henson company to have heard about it in time to catch it in the theatre, and even then only if you lived in a city that was showing it. So it is sadly, tragically, unfound by many of the beautiful dark souls who would love it best. There are no scares to make you jump out of your chair, but if you’re a fan of the beautifully weird, it is an experience to treasure.
Also attached below, for the approval of the midnight society, is one of the best known scenes from the film, when Helena is caught and transformed into the Dark Princess. It is worth watching for the black scleral contact lenses and bride of frankenstein hair alone, never mind the creepy jack-in-the-box marionettes and steampunk coloring and background clockwork.
Are you convinced yet?