“Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” is an ultra low budget fave from the early 70s that isn’t often discussed. Receiving only a very limited theatrical release (the earliest I could document is 1974), it vanished until its director, Christopher Speeth, resurrected it for a DVD release in 2003, and its later inclusion on the “American Horror Project: Volume 1” from Arrow finally brought the 1973 film out of the shadows in stunning quality. Here are five reasons I love it:
5: Carnivals are awesome.
I wish everybody had the chance to go to a real rundown traveling carnival back in the carefree days of yesteryear, where drifters, con artists and possible convicted felons assembled carnival rides that you gladly paid to climb into, possibly to be hurled to your screaming death. “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” teaches us that any reservations we may have had were completely justified. The carnival is run by a skeezy creep named Mr. Blood, who turns out to be a real live (?) vampire. It seems to be staffed by a few normals, several of whom are an undercover family searching for their missing son/brother, whose last known whereabouts were the carnival grounds. These scenes in the rundown amusement park are pure vintage carny pleasure, including a rickety old wooden rollercoaster, a ferris wheel, a few midway style games of skill, and an indoor boat ride “tunnel of love”.
4: It’s a camper movie.
Some movies I love for the furniture and vintage decor (I’m looking at you, “Eegah!” and “Track of the Moon Beast“), and “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” falls into a similar category for me: the camper/RV movie. “Race with the Devil” and “Just Before Dawn” are two more examples, but this movie actually positions the family inside their camper quite frequently, including a great scene where they’re shown cooking a delicious-looking fried chicken dinner on their tiny RV stove. Their sleeping arrangements are equally compact, sleeping three adults comfortably. It’s the tiny house obsession before there was HGTV.
3: Hervé Villechaize is in it.
His role on “Fantasy Island” cemented him for a time as a cultural meme (“Ze plaaaane! Ze plaaaaane!”), and this usually overshadows the fact that he had an actual career as an actor, and not only in “The Man with the Golden Gun“. His early role in “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” is absolutely demented as evil carnival barker Bobo, who speaks in rhymes and uses the perceptions of his victims against them. He gets a lot of the film’s best scenes, including one where he attacks a victim, loses the upper hand, and then disarms him again by comically pleading for his own life. The victim is murdered.
2: It’s got zombies.
Aside from the film’s willingness to go a little over the top with its gore, the “Night of the Living Dead” vibes are strong with this one. Underneath the carnival is a subterranean netherworld (total “Us” territory) full of tunnels lined with bubble wrap, inverted Volkswagens transformed into swinging hammocks, and a lagoon. The inhabitants of this secret underground space are a horde of zombies who shuffle around fighting with each other while watching silent horror movies projected on the wall. Dr. Blood and his employer, Malatesta, arrange for these zombies to have fresh victims to devour, preferably alive. One victim is somehow still moving after being skewered with a sharp implement by the park’s evil custodian; dragged into the underground lair, he’s still twitching when the zombies start eating him. Along with “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things“, this movie is one of the earliest to be directly influenced by Romero’s movie.
1: It loves the old Universal monster movies.
Even though it’s a small, independent production, this movie’s roots are in the classic Universal monster movies. The freaked out zombies are seen watching Lon Chaney in “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in their underground theater, posters are glimpsed for the original Universal “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” movies, and the whole film is really a monster rally like “House of Frankenstein“. We get a vampire, zombies, some mad scientist elements, and the devil himself. The last segment of the movie really reminds me of Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses“, except on a bubble wrap budget.
The movie is currently streaming for free on Tubi.
Bill Van Ryn is the editor of fanzine Drive-In Asylum and writer of film blog/Facebook page Groovy Doom. Buy the new issue of Drive-In Asylum HERE, or visit Forbidden Planet in NYC.