In one of the longest pre-credit sequences, we follow a bucolic family scene in 19th century Serbia dissolve to terror as the wife and child of schoolmaster Albert Müller (Laurence Payne) enter the forbidding castle of Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), a local vampire who has held the area in something of a blood siege while devouring its youth.
The film cuts to an evening scene where a torch-bearing horde of villagers plan to descend on the count’s lair. In the remarkably bloody battle that follows, Mitterhaus is staked out (literally) but not before he curses the town of Stetl for “all eternity” and disposes of quite a number of stalwart citizens.
Fifteen years later, Stetl lies under the curse of a plague and has been quarantined and sealed off physically by a roadblock and roving patrols ensuring nobody enters or leaves.
The local doctor (Richard Owens) tries to procure some medicine from the outside world, along with his son Anton (John Moulder-Brown).
Upon his return to Stetl, Anton finds a circus – the “Circus of Nights” – has been set up there with a Gypsy woman (Adrienne Corri), a clown-faced dwarf (Skip Martin), a strongman (future Green Cross Man and Darth Vader, David Prowse), twin acrobats (Robin Sachs and Lalla Ward) and various others in tow.
Shortly afterwards people in the town begin to die mysteriously, their bodies drained of blood. It transpires that the ‘circus’ is populated by vampires able to change into animals at will, and is run by Emil (Anthony Corlan), a cousin of the notorious Count Mitterhaus.