The second ‘American Horror Project’ film I have viewed from Arrow’s box set is a real obscurity Christopher Speeth’s only horror film ‘Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood’ from 1973. This one disappeared for almost 30 years after freaking out the unsuspecting on the Southern Drive In Circuit but has endured the test of time and been finally discovered all over again. The legacy lives it would appear, not due just to this Blu-Ray and DVD debut but the film even appears to have its own website and is fondly remembered by those who saw it originally. Firstly it should not be confused with Leonard Kirtman’s similarly titled ‘Carnival Of Blood (1970) doing the rounds on Something Weird. Pricey copies of Speeth’s film were apparently available before on Amazon but the chances are that like me this is going to be your first chance to sit back and view this somewhat delirious terror tale.
People used to flock to the carnival for fun. I personally don’t see what the fun is having grown up with everything connected to the pastime as being at the least sinister and at the most downright terrifying. Everyone from Ray Bradbury to Tobe Hooper are responsible for putting sane people off. At the very least you expect to be parted from all your money by the canny carny folk but you are just as likely to lose an arm and a leg from what I have seen and read. Not putting the “fun” in the funhouse Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood does not disappoint in the slightest. People have been going missing for some time at this particular carnival and the Norris family arrive under the guise of working there but secretly are undercover looking for their son, one of many who went missing under mysterious circumstances. We meet all sorts of strange and sinister characters, from the public face of things Mr Blood to plenty of weirdoes hiding in the side-lines. There’s the hook handed Mr Bean (and if they remake it I can totally see Rowan Atkinson in the part) a strange elongated rubber-faced litter picker, a malevolent midget, a man / lady fortune teller, a vampish long haired creature washing her locks in a stagnant pool and what about the carnival owner Mr Malatesta himself? Speaking of curiosities what of the punters? They certainly seem thin on the ground apart from a couple of good time boys arriving, one of them immediately heading off for a rollercoaster ride in the dark and we can guess exactly what’s going to happen to him. Others mistakenly take a last ride in the tunnel of love and our heroes the Norris’s are quickly in the midst of all manner of mysteries and terror, not in the least due to a hidden away society of cannibalistic ghouls who hardly ever come out and spend their time chewing entrails and watching silent black and white horror films. Needless to say it’s all a real hoot with stacks of interesting sets, a heroine running around in a state of completely inappropriately dress and some lurid ketchup gore straight out the HG Lewis school of special effects.
Running at a scant 76 minutes there’s no time to get bored here as we rush from one scene to another, entertained by Mr Blood’s shoulder shrugging dismissal of bodies piling up and the terrifying ghouls who are definitely an overspill from Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead. Arrow’s presentation is really lurid with the blood and colourful carnival trappings jumping out the screen and the screams ringing loud and clear. Some of the cast such as lead heroine Vena (Janine Carazo) appear to have never sullied the silver screen again after this whilst others were much more prolific. Still you can’t help watching this in the same way as Freaks and thinking that the players were all real carny folk themselves and there is a lot more to the film than meets the eye as far as the backstory is concerned. It’s time to pull myself together and see if the extras are going to unveil anything in the way of an even stranger tale than the film itself?
Stephen Thrower tells us just how obscure the film is on his introductory piece, apparently it was the director himself who self-released it at the tail end of the 90’s. He describes it as psychedelic and I did on watching it wonder what drugs the people involved in it were on and what I should have taken to enhance my viewing experience. Rest assured its trippy enough without anything else being necessary. Expect the unexpected he tells us, spot on there too. The ringmaster himself director Speeth is still very much with us and is interviewed next. Apparently as far as the film is concerned a lot had to do with a meeting on a plane with producer Richard Grosser who also handled the special effects. His father dealt with bankruptcies and got them into a ‘dying on its legs’ amusement park in Philadelphia to shoot scenes at night. No surprise to learn it’s now a shopping centre. Some of the actors are talked about and it’s no real mystery about them like my imagination hoped for, just some locals that read well for the parts and some off Broadway actors the director knew. The litter picker William Preston did have a real glass eye though! It seems that most people were quite normal really but that still didn’t stop the MPAA from insisting all scenes of cannibalism were removed to grant it an R rating. It’s not a huge feature by any means but everything from sound effects to distribution are discussed giving you a much greater insight into the movie. Writer Werner Liepolt is next to remember his part in things He was approached by Speeth to undertake putting a script together after the director had been impressed with an earlier play with some strange ideas and characters in it; a piece of American grotesquery much in line with the completed film. It would appear that none other than Sawney Bean and his Scottish clan of cannibals were as with Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and indeed the recent Bone Tomahawk partly inspirational. Apart from that his ideas are surprisingly quite deep. As mentioned the set design is striking, way beyond the realms of Dr Who and Blue Peter wowing us at the time. The next interview is with the appropriately named Richard Strange and Alan Johnson who were behind them. They built their pieces in both the amusement park and another bankrupt business and old steelworks and had to simulate an underground basement area within them. Luckily there was plenty of fibreglass and other stuff lying around for them to use and get the necessary look. Armed with dead cars and orange bubblepack surplus from the army they certainly created some striking imagery and seemed to have a lot of fun doing so. They also had a couple of self-proclaimed ‘witches’ helping out so there was a bit of mystery and imagination involved.
Completing things are out-takes, gallery and commentary track from film historian Richard Harlan Smith so another pretty exhaustive package for this most enjoyable film. Now when is the carnival swinging into town next? I need to make sure I stay the hell away!
Next: The Premonition