Director: Christopher Speeth
Screenplay: Werner Liepolt
Cast: Janine Carazo (as Vena); Jerome Dempsey (as Blood); Daniel Dietrich (as Malatesta) Lenny Baker (as Sonja); Hervé Villechaize (as Bobo); William Preston (as Sticker)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #81
Synopsis: At a carnival fairground, a family hired to run one of the amusement stands learns too late that a family of blood drinking, subterranean cannibals live underneath the site.
The likes of Malatesta's Carnival of Blood encapsulates what's rewarding about American exploitation and horror cinema from the seventies for me, regional productions with plenty of virtues alongside a lot of confounding aspects that make me feel as if I've been induced with a hallucinogenic whilst watching them adding to their personalities. Right from its survival through word of mouth and the director Christopher Speeth's own print of the movie, it's a grimy and eccentric experience where even the aspects that could be seen as shambolic are virtues too. The theme park itself where the film is filmed at is enticing in itself for this horror film with its wooden rollercoaster and grotty Tunnel of Love, evoking the similar emotion of local seaside fairs in my home country of England, of black stained swan boats and collapsing miniature golf courses away from the pristine tourist attractions, fascinating for me for this decay alongside their colours and innocence. It makes perfect sense, in a purely constructed environment of strange rides in the shape of animals and ghost trains, for there to be cannibals behind the staff doors underground watching silent films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) in their free time. For Hervé Villechaize to suddenly appear, in the cutting abruptly to a new scene, as Bobo the Dwarf warning the female protagonist Vena (Janine Carazo) of the place whilst waving a shooting gallery rifle at her. A place where it's absurd when the titular Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich) to be riding a rollercoaster by himself, (imagine a more competent version of the Master from Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) in a Dracula cape and black suit), but also making sense within the completely artificial environment where attractions already exaggerate fantastical iconography for rides.
That this weaves in avant-garde aspects into the madness is unexpected but leads to the film becoming more delirious. The general rawness of the film, a lived-in quality in its setting and performances, immediately appeals to me and adds a far greater sense of believability, which is a lot of the reason why seventies films, even when they can be amateurish and wooden in tone at points, have become so much more rewarding than a lot of the more modern horror movies which are visibly contrived with glossy aesthetics. The film sets the tone perfectly for how odd it will be in the first scene, Lenny Baker as a female fortune teller Sonja in a cramped, claustrophobic room where the table is actually revolving in space in from of the camera and the dialogue she utters to the lead protagonist has a cryptic, slurred quality to it.
The underground environments, thanks to the work of future architects Richard Stange and Alan Johnson with various craftspeople and artists, are the most rewarding aspect of the whole film, fully artificial and surreal environments entirely made from junk, where a lot of red installation foam, popcorn bags and various pieces of debris make up living art installations where extras roam about whining, babbling, eating prop meat and even burst into traditional American songbook pieces. An upside down, plastic cup toothed Volkswagen on chains as a swing. A room full of dolls. A blood draining machine, corpse grinder hybrid that looks like it was made from papier-mâché. Creations that are deliberately artificial but work some perfectly in terms of being deliberately out-there whilst being made of tangible materials, Michel Gondry is he went through an evil period, the textual nature to it all, in dank waterlogged rooms or the cavernous, multi-floor areas of the underground, adding to the mystery and sense of scale to the cannibal's home in a lo-fi, high art style. Adding to this madness is the psychoacoustic noises created by Dr. Sheridan D. Speeth to induce subliminal fear into the viewer. These noises aren't subtle in the slightest, atonal drones that rear up in the soundtrack clearly, but they add to the cacophony of screams and cryptic dialogue onscreen without becoming an audiovisual mess, instead being appropriate unnerving.
Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
One of the greatest appeals to American exploitation cinema, as the sequel to Arrow Video's American Horror Project set is something I'm in dire need of even above major films getting a release from them, is a unique style to them that is as distinct and rewarding as Italian horror cinema is for me too. The mix of realism in cast and locations, even amateur casting and less than perfect set choices, combined with characters actors in prominent roles - William Preston with a distinct glass eye and greenish-grey pancake makeup as the deranged litter picking ghoul or Jerome Dempsey as Mr. Blood, Malatesta's underling who runs the theme park and realises flamboyant dialogue whilst managing to still have dignity entering a scene in a dodgem car.
The result's a verisimilitude balanced with unpredictability, where even after multiple rewatches a loopiness to the film stays that's infectious, all the while the solid foundation of interest characters and character actor performances keeps the film afloat. The naturalism goes as far as all the damage the surviving print restoration that's permanently scarred the film, eccentricity dripping off it including possibly the most spoilt, moody child in horror cinema who demands a rubber chicken from the shooting gallery stand only to throw it to the floor immediately afterwards, or someone making the ill-advised decision to ride a rollercoaster late at night by themselves by way of unexpected decapitation. The screenplay by Werner Liepolt is also appropriately off-kilter, particularly its grabbing of the kind of material usually found from a gothic movie such as Malatesta as the cape wearing debonair man who possesses many faces, including one to induce madness in others, alongside the various fragments of vampirism included in the eccentric cannibals' behaviour, wooden stakes being waved cheatingly and blood being drained from victims.
Slowly growing into a personal favourite. Openly admitting that its ramshackle at times, this is yet the kind of oddity from the US in the seventies that, with some legitimately good technical and story tale qualities, I can appreciate for its strange results but as much for what it does so well.