Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood

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)

Wendigo

If you can’t get your myths right, sometimes you get lucky and create your own. That’s the case with Wendigo, which mispresents the Indigenous mythical creature as a beast with antlers, a monster motif that’s since increasingly revealed itself as a creature resembling the J├Ągermeister logo in countless films, recently, The Ritual.

The Wendigo is ubiquitous: a Marvel comics creation, a Stephen King novel, plus the feature creature in many a creature feature. And for better or for worse, creators have been tweaking Wendigos using artistic license and rendering them rapacious monsters, rather than as intended: beasts though which moral truths and foundations can be told.

Ultimately, though, this is a horror film. And Wendigo gets more right than it does wrong, particularly, setting, tone and characterization to create its own little world . It’s up close, intimate and foreboding, and wonderful use of the wintry backwoods. Wendigo boasts some A-level talent too, including Golden Globe/Emmy winner Patricia Clarkson as a workaholic clinician who can’t pull herself away from the therapist couch and a self-loathing graphic designer, played by Dawn of the Dead’s Jake Weber. Their dynamic, particularly the latter’s psychological distancing from the couple’s son, Miles, portrayed very capably by Erik Per Sullivan (Malcolm in the Middle) rings true too.

A member of a group of hunters antagonizes the urbane family when their city slicker Volvo mortally wounds a buck he’d laid claim to. And he continues to terrorize the family once they’ve settled into their rental home, including peering through the window to observe them being intimate.

Meanwhile, on a trip into the nearby Upstate New York town pharmacy, a phantasmagorical Indigenous man gifts Miles the film’s eponymous statuette. And when the dad takes his son on a sled ride, things take a dramatic turn.

Wendigo is grainy and gritty and has a guerrilla feel, a la Driller Killer. It’s ponderous in some points, and gutsy and inspired in others. And director Larry Fessenden, who gave us the better than it ought to have been killer catfish movie, Beneath, knows that in order for terrifying/violent scenes to stand out, they need to be preceded by quietude. It’s a lesson David Gordon Green still hasn’t learned for Halloween.

Ultimately, Wendigo rewards viewer patience.

***1/2 (out of 5)