Christopher Speeth/ USA/ 1973/ 74 mins
On Blu-ray Mon 4 Dec 2017
A few years back, a series of photos were posted online by some urban explorers who had sneaked into the deserted Camelot theme park in Chorley. The eerie shots of decayed and dilapidated attractions had an elemental creepiness straight out of a horror movie. This is exactly the type of setting and the atmosphere Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood aims for. Sadly, the crumbling, rickety fun fair location is easily the strongest aspect of a muddled and nonsensical film in which it’s difficult to separate off-kilter, hallucinatory sensibilities and genuine ineptitude.
After their son has vanished during a visit to an old carnival, the Norris family join as stall holders to infiltrate the proprietors and find out his fate. They discover that the fair is a front for a cannibalistic cult of zombie-like devotees, overseen by the vampiric Mr Blood (Jerome Dempsey) and the diabolically porn-‘tached Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich).
There is undoubtedly a lysergic filter to the mad proceedings right from the off, and a devotion to a certain strangely charming lo-fi aesthetic, with quantity of blood favoured over quality. The strange sets also go some way to covering a multitude of sins but it quickly becomes apparent there is nothing of substance here; and the skewed cinematography and odd performances are down to poor craftsmanship. The main villain is surprisingly under-used, and the focus on the bumbling Blood is baffling. There are nods to genre classics like Carnival of Souls and vintage silent films; but the footage of these early cinematic artefacts, played to the gathered ghouls like some hellish drive-through, only goes to demonstrate how inept Speeth’s work is compared to those seminal masters.
Released as part of Arrow Video’s admirable American Horror Project, that aims to seek out lost gems and push them towards the cult status enjoyed by many of their increasingly impressive back catalogue, Malatesta may have been better off left in obscurity. It has its champions, who claim it’s an authentic counter-culture curio; but with its uninteresting characters, deranged camera work and ridiculous plotting, it’s a shambles exacerbated by production values that are substandard even for the time.