Circus of Horrors, Dr Haze interview

Bring out the freaks! The Xtreme Entertainment Network meets the undead ringmaster behind the infamous Circus of Horrors – the one and only Dr Haze…

Circus of Horrors

The Circus of Horrors has gained a cult following for their raucous mixture of horror and rock n roll, with a show that has to be seen to be believed. Having toured the country since the mid-1990s, they shot to even greater heights of infamy thanks to their appearance in the finals of Britain’s Got Talent.

Their latest show, London After Midnight, has just finished a marathon run at the Lyric Theatre, and they are now back on the road touring the country. If you have never experienced their live show before, prepare yourself for a roller-coaster of a ride. Demon dwarfs and insane sword swallowers are the order of the day here. Britain’s answer to the Jim Rose Circus, their founder Dr Haze has brought the freak show kicking and screaming into the 21st century. And to think, you thought clowns were scary…

To get things started, can you tell us about your background and how you became involved with the circus?   Basically I was born and bred in the circus. When I was six months old I was in Scotland with my Mum, my Dad and a little dog in a van. Then my dad decided to do a runner. He left us there. The circus people were very kind and looked after me and my mum for the rest of the season, then took us back to Preston in Lancashire, which is where I grew up. When I was about 11, my mum tried to sue my dad for maintenance, and the court in their infinite wisdom suggested they got back together again. So they did, and within the first few weeks he got me a job in Ireland as a Fakir; which is where you eat fire, shove things up your nose, and put a rope around your neck and strangle yourself.

That sounds incredibly dangerous… Yes, imagine an 11 year old kid doing this! Anyway, I ended up becoming a circus fire-eater. My dad got itchy feet again, and did another runner after two years, and that was the last we saw of him. From then on I wanted to start a career in showbiz. I did circus for quite a few years, and then gave that up to pursue a career in rock and roll. I then found a way of combining the two. In 1995 I went on to form the Circus of Horrors, toured all over the world, and here we are all these years later still going strong.

I was going to say, it’s going from strength to strength. In terms of the circus itself, how would you describe the show to someone who’s never seen it before?   It’s basically and alternative rock and roll circus. It mixes daredevil circus acts with acts of real beauty – things you may see at Circus Eloize, but all ours are done with rock music and a tougher edge. It’s also done with a forked tongue firmly in each cheek, so it’s got a lot of comedy in it and we try and play it for laughs really. 

In terms of its popularity, along with people who have never seen it before, a large part of your audience is made up of people who keep coming back to watch your acts time and again. What do you think it is that makes people keep coming back to watch it?   It’s a quality show, and each time people come they see something different. We’re not tied in to a formula. Unlike Rocky Horror, as great as that is, you go and see it and it’s pretty much the same every year. In Circus of Horrors we can vary it and give a different show.

Where do you find your acts from?   The truth is most of them find me. Hannibal Hellmurto the sword swallower first saw the show when we were in Germany, which would now be about 16 years ago. He used to come nearly every night, and he looked dead normal then – he was a tax inspector in an office in Germany. I didn’t see him again for ten years, and when he turned up again all that time later, he had completely transformed his body. He had tattoos everywhere, he elongated his ears, he had a forked tongue, and he was also a great sword swallower. He had taught himself to swallow swords. He had done all of this really to get a job in the Circus of Horrors; it was the ultimate thing for him.


How about other performers. Have you had to travel the world to find them?   Well because we travel the world anyway, and because we are so well known they tend to come to us. If there is a particular act that I am after, I normally can find them.

In terms of the performances themselves, some of the things people get up to look quite painful. Have you ever had any bad accidents along the way or any performances that have gone wrong?   Sometimes things go wrong, but the acts tend to be more funny than dangerous thankfully. For me, I look at guys working on building sites, I look at a Formula One race, I look at horse racing… Now that looks really dangerous to me, but they are all calculated risks, which is exactly what we are doing. You can’t go out and learn to sword swallow in a day; it’s going to take you quite a lot of time. You have to know how to do it, you have to learn the technique and then you have to go through the pain threshold, and teach your gag reflexes that the cold piece of metal going down your throat is no different from eating or drinking. That’s all that it is; your gag reflexes open and shut when you eat or drink, so you’ve got to teach them it’s the same thing.

So you’re conditioning your body then…   I suppose the most bizarre accident we had was when Dan the Demon Dwarf accidently super-glued his penis to a hoover. He did that in the Edinburgh festival about 9 or 10 years ago now. He was taken to hospital and had it surgically removed. Like I say, the accidents have tended to be of the funny nature rather than the bad nature.

Was it true that certain councils banned the Circus of Horror when you first started?   Yes it was. Our first ever gig was at Glastonbury festival, and we were going on a tour after that, our first ever one. Our next stop was Brighton, and the council themselves were really keen on having us. However, we went to look at a site which was by Brighton marina, and the guy who owned it saw the poster which said the Circus from Hell on it, and he thought we were Satanists or something. It turned out he was a religious fundamentalist. There was a big cinema complex there, and it was ok to show the Exorcist and other horror films there, but he wouldn’t allow the Circus of Horrors on his site.

Isn’t that just double-standards?   We’ve had a lot of that over the years, but to be honest as time has gone on more councils have realised we are a popular form of entertainment. Banning us is not the answer – everyone should be allowed to see what they want to see. We’re not doing any harm to anybody, we’re not really Satanists, all that we’re doing is entertainment that has got the word horror in the title. People watch our show and they go out on a positive high.

Mark Pilkington

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