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

The Killing Kind (1973) review


John Savage (Terry Lambert), Ann Sothern (Thelma Lambert), Ruth Roman (Rhea Benson), Luana Anders (Louise), Cindy Williams (Lori Davis), Peter Brocco (Louise's dad)

Directed by Curtis Harrington

"Hey, you know what you're like? You're like this big, heavy pillow over my face... and you're suffocatin' me! Thelma and her...her bastard son!! You fat whore!! You're nothin' but a fat whore...just a fat whore. Thelma...? You still wanna go to the movies tonight?"

The Short Version: Immersive horror film cum character study is a lost gem among dozens of 70s style ferociousness on film. While Harrington's movie is occasionally shocking, the performances of its two leads are the pictures life blood. Highly recommended for those who appreciate a carefully constructed horror thriller with mounting suspense and occasional shocks.

Terry Lambert returns home to his mothers boarding house after a rape charge put him in prison for two years. Both hating and loving his seemingly oblivious mother, Terry's violent tendencies and abhorrence towards women begins to surface once more. Bodies start piling up as Terry begins to spiral out of control.

The director of NIGHT TIDE (1961), WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971) and RUBY (1977) helmed this fascinating psychological horror thriller that undeservedly fell victim to an unscrupulous distributor and even more undignified treatment that saw the film garner a negligible, almost non-existent release in the early 70s only to be seldom seen again till Dark Sky released a nice DVD edition back in 2007. It's a true shame that such a fine character study would get swept under the rug and forgotten to time such as the treatment this film received. On the interview with Harrington on the DVD, he appears bitter and heartbroken when discussing the films handling and eventual non-release.

Universal passed on it, so it was left in the hands of those who neither cared, nor knew what to do with the promotion. With no publicity at all, the film played a few drive-in play dates before vanishing. Famed director, Sam Fuller tried to help Harrington get the film back out there, but considering the slapdash handling, no one would touch the property as there were no records as to where the film had played up to that time.

In the tradition of shockers like PSYCHO (1960), PEEPING TOM (1960) and PRETTY POISON (1968), Harrington's movie is another in a long line of movies that posit women as both the source and the target of a killers obsession. This would later become the topic of contention in the 1980s with the onslaught of slasher pictures that again featured women as victims via cause and effect. While THE KILLING KIND isn't very bloody, the movie definitely has a handful of shock moments that are punctuated by violent death. These moments add an unhealthy air of morbidity to an already disturbing look into the life of Terry and his bizarre relationship with his mother.

Terry loves chocolate milk, enjoys looking at dirty magazines and even takes part in a bit of voyeurism which ends in the death of a cat that threatens to alert a young woman to Terry's sordid peepshow through a window. Furthering his cruelty to small animals (one of many signs of a potential serial murderer), Terry gleefully kills a rat (off screen). Once his heated disdain for the fairer sex begins to boil over, Terry attempts to drown one of the pretty female tenants in the swimming pool and later spurns the somewhat rakish advances of an older and horny tenant who keeps close tabs on him.

One wonders if Terry can be viewed as a pitiable character. At the outset, he's forced to participate in a gang rape. He obviously doesn't want to do it, but his "friends" push him onto the girl and force his clothes off to consummate the horrible act. It's here where the story begins with Terry returning home to his mother. Over the course of the film, we come to learn how much this man, the illegitimate progeny on one of his mothers flings, truly despises her and women in general. There's also some hint of a possible incestuous relationship between the two. Once Terry begins his killing spree, his mother becomes an unwilling accomplice. It's learned that Terry was apparently mentally disturbed even prior to his going to prison. It's also discovered that the raped girl, Tina Moore, enjoyed spreading herself around, so Terry seemingly went to prison for nothing.

There's also a subplot involving a middle aged, sexually frustrated librarian named Louise (who also likes to watch) who lives with her father next door to the boarding house. Her relationship with her dad, to an extent, mirrors the one Terry has with his mother. The way her father lords over her has apparently led Louise to embrace the more perverse side of human nature which comes to the fore when she finally confronts Terry at night while he's swimming. "It must feel wonderful...being raped", she says to him. When Terry shows indifference to her strong advances, she runs off in tears. Trying once more, and humiliated yet again, Louise strikes back in an equally insulting manner that pushes Terry to the point where he has to kill again.

A tragic film, it ends on a somber note that makes one think that Terry may not have been completely responsible for his fragile, and ultimately deadly state of mind. John Savage is excellent as the calculating killer. He perfectly captures the pain and frightening spontaneity in essaying this increasingly unstable murderer. Things come to a brutal head when Terry manages to track down his lawyer that failed to keep him out of prison. The scene ends in torture and vicious immolation. Savage is just that at times. You're never quite sure just where, or when he's going to go over the deep end. He turns it on and off like a light switch. Watch for a young Cindy Williams prior to finding fame on LAVERNE & SHIRLEY (1976-1983) as well as a long list of credits including Roger Corman's GAS-S-S-S, OR, IT BECAME NECESSARY TO DESTROY THE WORLD IN ORDER TO SAVE IT (1970), BEWARE! THE BLOB (1972) and AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973).

THE KILLING KIND is a frightfully well made, tightly woven and sadly, little seen horror thriller. Those looking for a barrage of killings and blood will be disappointed and likely bored. There's a few moments of repugnant violence, but while it's not gory, these scenes are made stronger by the building of the characters as opposed to throwing mindless exploitation at the screen. With a sincerely scary performance by John Savage, a lot of PSYCHO and a little bit of BABY JANE, Harrington's horror is a KILLer thriller worth tracking down.

This review is representative of the Dark Sky DVD

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