Review: Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood

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Formerly part of Arrow’s American Horror Project series, this is a bizarre, one of a kind slice of outsider horror cinema from the 1970s.

There’s nothing quite as fantastically weird as 1970s American horror cinema. Oh sure, it never quite had the reputation of its Euro horror counterpart, but the fact remains that the most bizarre, unique and delirious cinema ever made tended to emerge from the US indie scene in that era. A combination of elements – being unshackled from censorship, mainstream distribution requirements – and an outsider approach to filmmaking that often meant a collision of arthouse and exploitation, these films are not always good – but there’s something so utterly odd about them that even the dullest often linger longer in the memory than you might expect.

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Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973 – and not to be confused with Carnival of Blood from a few years earlier), for example, is batshit crazy. This is genuine outsider cinema – director Christopher Speeth didn’t make anything else – and is a chaotic, yet oddly satisfying collision of low-budget exploitation and the avant-garde underground. Certainly, the film doesn’t follow any of the conventional rules of filmmaking – the narrative is fractured and borderline incoherent (and when the plot finally starts to come together, the film actually becomes less interesting), the characters are bizarre and cartoonish, the dialogue rarely makes any sense and Speeth’s directing and editing style is unusual to say the least. Yet this is what makes the film so oddly compelling. In a world where everything looks, feels and sounds interchangeable, it’s a thrill to see something so completely removed from normality – and unlike some modern films that play with / remove narrative, this doesn’t feel remotely contrived or arrogant. Speeth wasn’t attempting to show how intellectually superior he was – he was trying to make a commercial horror film, and this is what somehow emerged.

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Set in a run down fairground, the story just about follows the fate of visitors who are attacked by the weird monsters who make up the staff – there are zombie like creatures who spend much of their time watching silent movies, psycho killers, vampires and more (including Fantasy Island‘s dwarf Hervé Villechaize) dotted throughout, as if Speeth was simply cherry picking bits from popular horror and mixing them all together in a weird, psychedelic brew. The result is fascinating – close to a real nightmare and not dissimilar to the trippiest Euro horror of the era, but with a more amateurish and so entirely unique slant. It’s pretty extraordinary, but again will not be for everyone.

DAVID FLINT

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