VINE VOICEon 10 August 2012
Stylish. Insane. Gory. Experimental. Mind-blowingly surreal. 'Malatesta's Carnival of Blood' is an unearthed gem of 70s US low-budget horror (for my money, the most exciting sub-genre going) and, once viewed, is unlikely to ever be forgotten. The plot, such as it is, concerns Vena (Janine Carazo) who arrives with her parents at the titular carnival, where she begins working. However, the family are really here to seek their missing son, whom their pistol-packing patriarch believes may well have suffered a terrible, vengeance-requiring fate. It quickly turns out, however, that disappearances are more than common around these parts, and Vena's investigations (aided by a concerned carny) quickly plunge her into a disorientating realm of hallucinogenic horror, presided over by the playful and yet sinister Malatesta himself.
It's difficult to convey in that brief summary, however, how wonderfully mad this film is. The plot is basically an irrelevance - most of the film consists of bewildered characters roaming around the carnival, both above ground and in the claustrophobic world below, being assailed by gibbering cannibalistic ghouls. If you are one of those folk who require their viewing include a tight and sophisticated plot, character development and all that jazz, you won't find any of it here. This film is completely devoted to achieving a dream-like (or more accurately nightmarish) ambience - we're in the territory of 'Lemora' or 'Messiah of Evil' here, but more eccentric than either, if somewhat less coherent. (Your appreciation of 'Death Bed: The Bed That Eats' might be the best gage of how much you'll like this.) For my money, the movie stands or falls on what you make of its out-there visuals. If you are like me, you will find yourself entranced by sights like the upside-down VW Beetle with the mouth in its bonnet, or the ghoul cinema where Malatesta's degenerate clan enjoy old silent movies. (They also like to sing before meals.) You will find a chill going up your spine every time the shambling form of William Preston's wonky-eyed cannibal staggers onto the screen, and you will learn to fear the rollercoaster near which he is frequently found. You will revel in the low budget grimness and playfulness, and you will find Jerome Dempsey's portrayal of the unambiguously named 'Mr. Blood' worryingly ingratiating. You may even develop a tolerance for Herve Villechaize's Bobo. (That's his character's name, before you ask.)
On the other hand, you may just regard it as a load of surreal nonsense. There's no doubt that this film is definitely an acquired taste, just like the very particular taste Malatesta's deranged family also enjoy. For my money, director Christopher Speeth should be proud of the singular nature of his achievement, and we should all be grateful that a print of this long-lost gem was discovered in an attic and unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. It is worth noting that the quality of said print is not perfect - the start of the film has visible hairlines and minor artefacts, but these mostly die away in the first ten minutes. The film was also stripped of its goriest segments by censors, prior to its original release - some of these are included on this DVD as extras, though it would have been good if they could have been reintegrated into the film. Nonetheless, an utterly subjective five stars for this movie, though feel free to knock a point (or more) off for the film's fairly plotless nature - personally, I find that an asset.
And if you're worried for the heroine - well, it's all right. Her boyfriend Johnny's on his way, and he'll make everything ok.