Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood

Discussion in 'High Def' started by rkellner, Oct 8, 2016.

  1. rkellner

    rkellner Active Member

    Nov 23, 2015
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    [​IMG] Reviewer: rkellner
    Review Date: October 7, 2016

    Released by: Arrow
    Release date: 2/23/2016
    Progressive Scan
    Codec: AVC, 1080p
    Widescreen 1.85:1

    “Beware the mystery of the carnival that shall remain nameless”

    Ah, Malatesta, so we meet again. This is the sort of film that makes being a hardcore horror movie fan challenging and rewarding at the same time. On one hand, no other genre inspired people to say, “Screw it. I am making a movie!” and put all of their morbid creativity into one interesting solo effort with no rules to play by other than some requisite violence, strangeness, and a minimum of a 70 minute run time. In the VHS era, many of these “home grown horrors” were virtually impossible to find, but I am willing to bet more than a handful of you readers have logged countless hours in Mom n’ Pop rental stores seeking out such diamonds in the rough. However, it has been my experience that for every 20 obscure-as-hell regional horror movies, maybe 1 or 2 are memorable. Believe it or not, many people who had never made a movie before or after, and had no formal training made some really shitty films which have now sunken into rightful obscurity. However, once in a blue moon, the right creative elements come together, the fates align, and something really crazy is birthed. The forth video era (VHS>Laserdisk>DVD>Blu) has done a good job of separating the quality from the dreck for the most part and has blessed us with some amazing copies of films that have no business looking this good, nor reaching the target audience that some of these cult labels allow. The good folks at Arrow who aim at being the “Criterion of Cult” have included this oddity in a lavish edition in their American Horror Project Vol. 1 boxset of near forgotten horror oddities that have only gotten the scarcest of DVD releases up to this point. Having Stephen Thrower as the curator of the project (and hopefully further volumes) is definitely a sign of encouragement, as he is more knowledgeable on this line of cinema than most anyone else. So, what do I make of Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood? Is it a lost cult masterpiece or just another film that should be obscure for a reason?

    The Story

    Full disclosure. I have owned the original DVD that I purchased from the director’s website many, many years ago. I have never been able to finish it, even with the scant 70+ minute run time.

    inline Image From what I can gather, the “plot” of this film involves a couple decide to buy an old run down carnival. About five minutes after doing so, they instantly regret it, meanwhile every teenager within a ten mile radius has decided to sneak out of their houses at night and hang out on the property after hours. In no time, they start winding up dead at the hands of blue faced, ghoul-like carnies who take their victims into weirdly elaborate decorated interiors where they drain their blood and eat their flesh…or something like that. On top of this, some mysterious stranger is running around the fairgrounds in a black cape at night and may or may not be a vampire.

    inline Image After the first round of this, it is quickly night again and more teenagers sneak out of their trailers and run around odd set pieces which are edited together like a bizarre Cabinet of Caligary-esque fever dream. We also encounter more slow moving, blue faced zombie carnies that are amassed and attack our designated victims with an insatiable thirst for flesh. Our man in the cape returns to howl at the moon surrounded by zombies while Night of the Living Dead type sieges take place.

    inline Image To say that the last act and a half of this film is unintelligible is an understatement, but that doesn’t diminish its odd psychedelic watchability. Hordes of zombies watch Hunchback of Notre Dame, scenes jump oddly around randomly, people get carried off and then rescued ten seconds later, an old couple appear here and there in the same nightly garb across three days, cannibals feast on flesh, people take a roller coaster ride for no reason, the main bad guy transforms into a man with bubble wrap for a head, and lots more scenes of bubble wrap and artistic garbage ensue.

    inline Image The movie plays out like there was this huge amount of unrelated but cool looking footage that they shot but didn’t know what to do with it. So instead of trying to write new scenes to link them together in some way, they just kind of said “screw it” and edited it all together in a fever dream jumble until it somewhat satisfactorily ends. It reminds me a bit of the last act of Manos, Hands of Fate (hands down the only good part of that movie) and creates a really disorienting viewing as scenes and plot points don’t logically flow together in any semblance of sequence. It is fairly effective if that was what was artistically intended… just don’t ask me what the hell this movie was about or what happened in it. Actually, if I could pay this movie a heavy compliment, it is that many scenes, if done now, would be said to rip off David Lynch. Seeing as this film was done 1973, it was definitely free let its freak flag fly.

    inline Image The only recognizable actor in this is Herve Villechaize who would go on to play Tattoo from Fantasy Island as well as The Man With the Golden Gun the year after this was released. Here he plays the requite creepy midget carnie named Bobo who shows up now and then to spout rhymes in 30 second intervals and then disappears. Everyone else is a local extra and fairly unmemorable. The direction, set and sound design here are definitely a step up from the normal regional horror fare and make this a unique experience which is definitely enhanced by this new remaster.

    In this end, this is more of a movie that you experience rather than follow in a three act structure. Hell, if the entire movie was a dream, I would not question it. Were the filmmakers trying to make a surrealist film, a zombie/vampire/carnie film, or something else entirely? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

    Image Quality

    inline Image This looks like a revelation compared to the original private-released, non-anamorphic DVD put out by Windmill Films back in 2003. According to Arrow, this print was struck from the directors own 35mm reference print which was scanned at 2k resolution. It was further processed to clean up thousands of instances of dirt and debris and color graded at Deluxe Restoration in London. It is pretty fair to say that the film never looked this good, even on its limited initial run.

    The colors and lighting look great for being a shoestring budget effort. The resolution and clarity of this 1080p 1.85:1 picture look solid and the night scenes, which comprise the majority of the film, look excellent, which is a nice step up from before. The textures of the weird interiors really shine and add to the surreal and psychedelic nature of the film. Now mind you, this is still far from reference material. Despite the restoration effort, there are still some deep scratches that persist as well as some green markings on the print, and some of the key scenes in this are really fuzzy and the color is muted. However I suspect that a lot of these flaws are inherent in the source material that no amount of HD scanning will fix.


    The LPCM mono soundtrack on this was taken from the 35mm reference print and it gets the job done, but is nothing to write home about. The weird lo-fi soundscapes really shine on this release and add to the disorienting nature of the dream like scenes. For the most part vocals are clear, but obviously the source material shows some technical flaws which are going to come across on this BluRay.

    Supplemental Material

    Introduction by Stephen Thrower. In my mind, Stephen Thrower can do no wrong, and knowing that he is the curator of this series of remastered obscure regional horror films should come as no surprise to anyone who has read his 500+ page magnum opus on the subject of rare regional horror entitled Nightmare USA. Seriously, if anyone wants a supreme Christmas present for a horror fan, it is amazing. He does his thing and waxes eloquently on how to watch the film and a couple factoids.

    Commentary by Richard Harland Smith, who people may know from the Turner Classic Movies horror blog. He is a self-proclaimed huge fan of the film and goes into elaborate detail on the aspects of making the film, the locations, the performers, etc. While he is passionate about the film, he is a bit dry to listen to though.

    The Secrets of Malatesta is a 14 minute feature with the director Christopher Speeth. In this he talks candidly of the flaws of the picture, working with the cast, and various aspects of the production. His stories on the genesis of the project, the budgetary constraints, and how he developed the weird sound design of the picture with his brother who is a psychoanalyst are pretty interesting.

    Similarly, the ten minute feature Crimson Speak is a conversation with the writer Werner Liepolt. He talks about the genesis of the scripts and how many scripted elements were abandoned for things shot on the fly. Gee, couldn’t tell at all…

    Malatesta’s Underground is a ten minute discussion with art directors Richard Strange and Alan Johnson who go into detail about the creation of the crazy carnival caverns and their DIY attitude to some of the more outlandish set designs. The fact that most of the sets were constructed out of garbage does not surprise me.

    There are three minutes of outtakes on here, but those are basically just existing scenes with a little more to them.

    Rounding out the extras are a photo gallery of a couple dozen production photos as well as PDF copy of the script

    Final Thoughts

    Cinematic history is littered with “One Film Wonders,” people who make a single film and swing for the fences with it such as: Night of the Hunter, Carnival of Souls, and The Honeymoon Killers. I am not quite sure anyone would add director Christopher Speeth (and writer Werner Liepolt) to that sort of elite cinematic company, but I will give them credit that the one film that they did made is at least a unique one that definitely plays by its own rules. What rules those are however, no one can say… In the end, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a bizarre, head scratching, psychedelic horror odyssey that, at a brisk 74 minutes, is worth watching at least once to savor the DIY ethos from a time when you could get a couple grand together, some 16mm or 35mm film, some maybe not-so-talented actors, and if it was weird enough, at least it would get shown at the drive-in. This is no lost classic, but it does get an “A” for effort from me. Well, maybe that’s generous… a definite “B+”.


    [​IMG] Movie - B+

    Image Quality - B

    Sound - B-

    Supplements - A-

    Technical Info.
    • Color
    • Rated R
    • 2 Disc (1 bluray, 1 DVD)
    • LPCM Mono
    • Subtitles
    • Introduction by Stephen Thrower
    • Commentary by Richard Harland Smith
    • The Secrets of Malatesta featurette
    • Conversation with the writer Werner Liepolt
    • Discussion with art directors Richard Strange and Alan Johnson
    • Outtakes
    • Production photos
    • Script
    Katatonia, rxfiend, russweiss and 4 others like this.
  2. hellraiser40

    hellraiser40 Well-Known Member

    Jan 9, 2005
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    Helchteren, Belgium
    i liked this film a lot - it has a great setting, i even was impressed with a certain sequence on the rollercoaster that must have been not so safe to film!
    Katatonia and satans-sadists like this.
  3. x666x

    x666x Well-Known Member

    Aug 28, 2002
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    Great review.

    Totally agree with h40 as well. This was a fun movie. And yes, the rollercoaster scene was great. I have only seen this movie once so far years back and I still remember that scene. The set and the era has a great feel too. Time to revisit!
    Katatonia and satans-sadists like this.

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