Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)

Starring Janine Carazo, Jermoe Dempsey, Daniel Deitrich, Herve Villechaize

Directed by Christopher Speeth

Enter the gates of this carnival at your own risk! Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a twisted tale of terror, freaks, and cannibalism. After its run on the Southern 70’s drive-in circuit, 1973’s Malatesta’s disappeared for nearly 30 years. Thought to be lost for good, a single copy of the film was literally found in an attic recently and has been remastered to DVD by American Zoetrope Studios. It enjoyed its world-premier DVD release at the Eerie Horror Film Festival this year, where it won the coveted Grandma Gladys award (Grandma’s Attic award) for being the best vintage or unearthed film at the festival. The darkened, little playhouse theater that was home to the festival was the perfect setting for a re-release of this disturbing little film.

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, written by Werner Liepolt and directed by Christopher Eric Speeth, is known as a 70’s Cult Classic thanks to its followers. Many of these “loyals” are Herve de Villachaize fans, who after making this film went on to fame in his role as “Tattoo” on the television series “Fantasy Island”. Other key cast members include Jerome Dempsey, Bill Preston, Janine Carazo, Daniel Dietrich, and Lenny Baker. These individuals were cast into one of the oddest films I have ever seen, and believe me… my movie viewing habits have led me into some pretty strange on-screen realms.

With the typical game booths, rides, and attractions an outsider would never suspect that Malatesta’s run-down carnival could be hiding its dark secret. Preparing for the start of a new season Mr. Blood, who oversees the business end of the carnival, is in the process of hiring new employees. During their initial tour of the carnival Mr. Blood sells the carnival biz as a “gold mine” to the Norris family. We all know that starting a new career can be a daunting enough task when the situation is every day, but when the Norris family decides to “run off and join the carnival” they soon find themselves in a living nightmare with no means of escape.

Even before the sun sets the carnival treats us to a taste of evil things to come when Kit, who runs the Tunnel of Love, discovers that the cost of the ride may be more than a few tickets. Kit confides what he witnessed to Vena, the Norris’ daughter. The two teens are quickly swept up in a web of horrors.

We soon find out that Mr. Norris has a hidden agenda of his own where the carnival is concerned. There is a vague mention of wanting answers about a missing person, possibly family, that is never really explained any further. All the while the carnival is claiming more victims, and Bobo (Herve de Villachaize) shows up as a tiny, taunting menace. Cue the surrealistic, non-sensical dream sequences, and the audience is made aware that the carnival is actually inhabited by a large group of nocturnal, zombie-like, underground dwellers who are hungry, for what else? Human flesh of course!

As Malatesta makes his intentions and true identity known, Vena and her family are forced into a fight for their lives. I think Mr. Norris gets a good idea of what happened to his missing kin, and I don’t believe he likes the answers he receives. There are two things he should have done…1. Warn his daughter about the possible danger BEFORE she runs off on her own and 2. Take his wife’s advice early on and get the hell out of there! Her curlers weren’t too tight for her to know they were in over their heads.

By the time Vena’s boyfriend, Johnny, shows up all Hell has broken loose. Being told that they had perished in a fire, the poor boy unwittingly stumbles into the mess in hopes of finding out what really happened to Vena and her parents. To say anymore would give away the insane finale of this unbelievable film.

If you think this review jumps around too much, you should watch the movie yourself and you’ll understand why. While the continuity is pretty much intact at the end of the film, your sanity may not be so lucky. With a story that plays out like a trip through a house of mirrors, viewers may find themselves a bit dizzy and confused when the exit comes into sight.

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood seems to try too hard during the last half of the film. It relies too much on a sometimes overwhelmingly dark atmosphere, which makes it a bit hard to make out in certain scenes, and sound effects that are disturbing, but not in the originally intended manner. These problems combined with several awkward cuts wind up being more of a distraction for the audience than anything else. The obvious lack of on-screen violence and gore is proof that ratings played a large part in the final cut of the film.

While Malatesta’s is certainly not a terrible film, it is definitely not one that I would recommend to the general horror viewing public. I would save this recommendation for those who can appreciate the cult classics, and who have a taste for the unusual or downright bizarre. This film may not even be close to my top favorites, but it does have the potential to grow on me.

I have seen Malatesta’s twice now, once at the Eerie Horror Film Festival and then I had the chance to check out the DVD at home. Though not perfect by any stretch, the film looks pretty good for being transferred from a 25-plus year old copy that had been lost in an attic for decades. The bare-bones DVD does contain a slide-show of stills from the movie and some deleted scenes that are titled as outtakes on the menu. From these deleted scenes you can see all of the gore that would have been in the film if it would have gotten passed the MPAA. I would love to see a more in-depth, special edition version DVD of Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood released with all of these scenes put back into the film, and possibly some extra features.

Unfortunately the release of a special edition DVD may be near impossible due to the length of time the film was lost as well as the lack of any additional footage. So for now the current DVD release of Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood will have to be sufficient. Even without the prospect of any additional DVD releases, the fact that Malatesta has once again seen the light of day is a miracle in itself. One that I’m sure is welcomed by fans of this obscure little film. Let’s hear it for the “pack-rats”!

Be sure to visit the film’s official site here for stills and info!

3 ½ out of 5 Mugs O’ Blood

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Jon Condit

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