Art house, meets funhouse? Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a no-budget 70s exploitation film with Gothic and other aspirations, which, even if frequently unmet are nonetheless well worthy of your time.
The brainchild of director Christopher Speeth, for whom this is a singular achievement – literally, as he never made another film – this one concerns people going missing at a carnival, as the film’s title suggests.
The Norrises are concerned that their daughter Vena has run off and joined the circus, as it were. Truth be told, she’s seen canoodling with carny Kit, who runs the Tunnel of Love and probably has designs on getting lucky with Vena.
Other patrons have gone missing too, including park interlopers decapitated on a dilapidated coaster. But it’s not the built out narrative that’s the draw here, as it’s, let’s be honest, somewhat…deficient.
It’s the characters…who are….well…real characters that make this one a delight.
There’s a cross-dressing soothsayer we’re introduced to reading cards, and doing so on a table that’s spinning, a disorienting and fever-dreamish way to begin proceedings.
The theme park manager is one very pale Mr. Blood, a pretty obvious tell and a character who underscores the point by saying he has unusual metabolism (!).
There’s a phantasmagorical dwarf, Bobo, who appears then disappears to Vena, then appears again armed with a shotgun.
And who can forget the amusement park employees? They’re cannibalistic zombies fully enraptured by some kind of early silent-era horror film a la White Zombie and are all under the spell of titular Malatesta, a mysterious, robed Svengali (or Sven Jolly, if you’re a fan of Seinfeld).
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a pretty messy affair, the byproduct of something at times hastily shot. Still, the dizzying swing rides, hall of mirrors, and dunk tanks are vividly rendered, giving this a very arthouse European feel. There’s simply nothing quite like it, and it has more in common with say, Hammer Horror, Mario Bava and The Sinful Dwarf than Manos: The Hands of Fate, to which it’s oft compared by detractors.
**** (out of 5)