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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973) review


Janine Carazo (Vena Norris), Jerome Dempsey (Blood), Daniel Dietrich (Malatesta), Lenny Baker (Sonja), Herve Villechaize (Bobo)

Directed by Christopher Speeth

The Short Version: This long thought lost slice of subversive cinema is one of the most mind numbingly bizarre motion pictures you will ever lay your eyes on. Whether you find it a work of quirky genius, or a jumbled mess from a slop artist, this is an incredibly surreal, moderately grotesque experience laced with a sporadic smattering of spook show elements despite a flimsy plot and even flimsier narrative structure.

A grumpy couple and their daughter spend a few days on the grounds of a carnival to decide if they wish to become co-owners of the macabre establishment which is lorded over by the mysterious Malatesta and his pale pallored partner named Blood. The carnival itself plays host to a slew of kooky characters as well as a gaggle of ghouls that crave human flesh. Those who buy a ticket to this charnel carnival never make it out alive.

Utterly bizarre and freakishly disturbed low budget obscurity contains some of the most ghoulishly inventive set pieces and random, nightmarishly surreal imagery you will ever see. The director fashions a totally unconventional horror picture that takes place at a creepy carnival. Those who venture into Malatesta's traveling sideshow of death are never seen again just as this movie was never seen again after its brief run in the south. Looking like an early and aborted Bob Clark picture that you'd swear was finished by Rob Zombie, director, Speeth gets an incredible amount of mileage out of what was undoubtedly a minuscule budget.

The film is still a disjointed mess. It's artistically photographed and has a certain hypnotic allure about it, but one wonders if this was by design, or by accident. There's barely any structure to the storyline. It's more like bits and pieces strung together with only the bare minimum of exposition. Still, there's a plethora of ornate weirdness that manages to hold the whole mishmash together. The set design is undeniably gutter funded, but possesses a bizarre touch of ghoulish ingenuity that will elicit some measure of admiration from brave horror explorers.

The menagerie of murderous characters have their own signature brand of peculiarity about them. Basically, it's the bloody version of THE ADDAMS FAMILY set in a traveling carnival. In addition to Malatesta and the vampiric Blood, there's a freaky transvestite palm reader, a bug eyed mongoloid trash collector, a verse spouting dwarf (played by FANTASY ISLAND's very own Herv Villechaize who also played Scaramanga's devious henchman in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) and dozens of pasty faced cannibals that mill around in a zombie-like state.

cut scene found in the outtakes

The creepy cannibals spend much of their time in the bowels of the caverns beneath the carnival acting like they're in some hellish mosh pit while grooving to silent horror films being projected on a big screen. There's also a nice ode to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as the flesh hungry mob attack the Norris' in their RV trying to get inside to make them their next meal.

another cut shot shown in the outtakes on the DVD

MALATESTA'S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (1973) has an interesting pedigree (it was restored by American Zoetrope Studios!) as something of a missing link in 70s trash. It's yet another quirky film long buried and recently dug up from obscurity. It isn't the great lost classic some may hype it as, but the subversive style, whether intentional, or accidental, is enough for horror aficionados who wish to see something way off the beaten path.

You can find out more here at the films website MALATESTA'S CARNIVAL.

This review is representative of the independently distributed DVD by the films director


Jack Veasey said...

Sounds interesting. It's probably just a coincidence, but there was a notorious Italian anarchist named Malatesta who lived in the late 19th/early 20th century. (On the other hand, I remember a series of films with a vampire named Nostradamus, and it had nothing to do with the famous prophecies guy, so go figure.)

venoms5 said...

Oh, yeah, the Mexican Vampire series starring German Robles! I reviewed them all here, Jack. You can find'em by sifting through the Mexi-horror section (color coded red), or by title, or by the Nostradamus Mexican Vampire series label. Robles also starred as a vampire in THE VAMPIRE and THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN (1957).

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