Most definitely a cinematic oddity Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is not just the only film made by Christopher Speeth and Werner Liepolt who served as director and writer sequentially but it was also thought lost for many decades after its release in 1973 where it would have only been seen a few times mainly on the southern Drive-in circuit.
Resurfacing in 2003 the amazing Arrow Video have released Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood restored and packed with extras including an introduction to the film by Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower, an Audio Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith and interviews with Speeth and Liepolt along with art directors Richard Stange and Alan Johnson.
So why was this strange movie so sort after by horror fans for so long? The reason probably lies in the surreal nightmarish imagery that permeates the picture offering visions straight out of your darkest dreams and creating a chaotic hypnotic quality that few movies ever muster.
Set in a creepy carnival whose name comes from the face of the franchise Mr. Blood (Network and Brewster’s Millions actor Jerome Dempsey) and his mysterious boss Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich) the movie opens with a new family named the Norris’s joining the troop with a secret mission to track down their missing son who they think perished in the park.
Their daughter Vena (Janine Carazo) is unaware of her parents plan and carries on working the empty carnival stall they own but some odd run ins with the psychic yet small statured Bobo (Hervé Villechaize from Fantasy Island and The Man with the Golden Gun) along with the transvestite fortune teller Sonia (Lenny Baker) make her feel like more is going on than she first thought.
Her fears are confirmed when Kit (Chris Thomas) one of the many drop out’s under Mr. Bloods employment tells her that another family have gone missing in his Love Boat. From here the pair’s investigation plunges them into an underground world of Satanic worship, cannibalism, murder and more as they attempt to uncover the terrible truth behind Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood.
Filmed at the rundown, dilapidated and downright disturbing Willow Grove amusement park in Pennsylvania the films sets are amazing. From the church like cinema playing black and white horror films where the deformed and demented denizens dance at Malatesta’s command to the warped workshop full of demonic looking dolls the various rooms we move through are cavernous and confusing and predominantly made out of trash evoking both Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and We Are the Flesh, two other very unsettling movies also involving cannibalism.
Although there is a plot to this crazy low budget movie the story and script are far less important than the ambiance and mood that is created and in fact the sense of uncertainty that overcomes the viewer trying to follow exactly what’s going on at times only adds to the overall fantastical and fear ridden feel.
With any sense of story deteriorating further as the film marches forward the last third is dominated by a seemingly never ending chase as Vena flees from Mr. Blood deep into the bowls below the fairground and at last encounters Malatesta and his zombie-like followers plunging the viewer into a haunting and pessimistic finale.
Although not the best horror movie of the period Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood deserves to be seen due to its catalogue of nightmarish imagery and disconcerting anarchic doom ridden ambiance all of which overpowers the audience more effectively than many other movies could do then or even now.