Sally Rotten, a bloody, painted circus freak crept on visitors as they made their way into the billowy black and red tent. Zombies and a Leatherface lookalike lumbered inside and terrorized unsuspecting customers. One woman got so scared that she reflexively huddled behind a man nearby and hid her face, waiting for the dedicated actors to find another victim.

Hordes of people showed up to the recently constructed Big Top in the Four Seasons Center parking lot on Aug. 4 to attend Paranormal Cirque, a traveling horror-themed circus. The show is a part of Cirque Italia, an Italian entertainment company that describes itself as a “vivid, dramatic and moving experience under a customized traveling tent” and was finishing up a stint in Greensboro after haunting Winston-Salem in early July. The event promised to be a thrilling combination of circus, theater and cabaret, all tinged with horror.

And while the actors shambled like the undead and intimidated those in their paths, the real scares came from the amazing feats performed by the show’s talented acrobats.

Marked by bloody facial scars and a devilish grin, an Exorcist-inspired actress rolled out in a bed, writhing and hissing as she emerged. Like a scene from a movie, the possessed woman cursed at the nearby priest before ascending into the air, her long white nightgown trailing beneath her. The only thing suspending her from the wire in the ceiling? — her ponytail. As she rose higher, the confident athlete began twirling and posing like a spider weaving her web. Audience members ogled as she spun in circles and the wire pulled her around the tent, yanking her hair taut, making her smile wider. One onlooker shook his head in disbelief.

During the almost three-hour show, unbelievable acts like this one were countered by segments of humor that were mostly sexual in nature, offering a lighter, if crass, alternative to the freaky feats.

Still, the audience laughed at the masturbation jokes and the dry humping between the show’s highlights like the scantily-clad female acrobats who gracefully contorted themselves in mid-air or the burlesque dancing and segments of magic by the ringmaster.

And as the gags and gigs wrapped up, the show introduced its finale.

Shaped like a giant lollipop made of metal or a giant hamster wheel attached to a long arm, the Wheel of Death took four men to configure. A squat man appeared from behind the curtains and quickly began climbing up the beams of the rig, swiftly ascending to the top. As he made his way into the wheel, the weight of his body began tilting the whole thing, starting the terrifying cycle. As the whole contraption began spinning in huge circles, the man started to run and jump, timing his movement to the rotations of the death trap. And if that wasn’t enough, after a few minutes of warming up, the daredevil climbed onto the outside of the wheel — now almost 30 feet in the air — and began running on top of it. Then, he added a jump rope. Then, a blindfold. As the audience gasped and hollered, the man skipped and jumped, tripping a few times, nearly missing the edges of the beams. Spectators screamed while others covered their faces. And before anyone could say occupational hazard, the performer slowed his speed and brought the Wheel of Death to a stop.

One woman quietly exhaled, “Oh, thank god.”

As truly novel moments dwindle in our cyclical society, Paranormal Cirque offers a unique, single night of shocking feats that’s a refreshing break from the usual binge-watching sprees.

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