By Scott Dorward
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (USA, 1972)
“Does it hurt?” “Only when I laugh! No, seriously, it does hurt.”
When I was seven years old, my mother taught me how to make scrambled eggs. I had never been allowed to cook anything before and it was all very exciting. Filled with the enthusiasm of childhood, I decided I could improve the eggs by adding random herbs and spices, throwing in handfuls of whatever had the coolest names. The flavours battled each other for recognition, with the only real loser being whoever ate the eggs. Their texture ranged from wallpaper paste to second-hand chewing gum. Sometimes, I even added food colouring, serving up concoctions of alarming green or blue.
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a great, heaping mound of these eggs — barely edible but bursting with amateur passion. And dyed blood red.
Oh, I don’t know… There’s, like, this carnival run by ghouls. Except one of the ghouls is really a vampire. You can tell because his name is “Blood”. They hire living people to operate the rides and then they eat the people. Sometimes, they eat the customers too. How this place keeps operating is beyond me.
There’s a warren underneath the fairgrounds, decorated with bubble wrap. The ghouls watch Lon Chaney movies down there, eating people instead of popcorn. And Hervé Villechaize turns up every now and then to have a quick scamper. I don’t know if he’s a ghoul too. It doesn’t seem to matter. Nothing really matters anymore. Help me.
At various points, someone’s head randomly flies off while they ride a rollercoaster, someone else is murdered with a stick and bleeds what appears to be tomato puree, and a villain rolls up in a dodgem car to deliver a sinister monologue. That probably gives you a better idea of what kind of film this is than any actual synopsis could.
I refuse to believe Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood was planned. It makes more sense to imagine the director waking up after a three-day bender, finding film canisters lying all around and thinking, “Oh, fuck. Did I make a movie?”
It’s impossible to tell how much of the weirdness is an artistic choice and how much is just incompetence. Almost every scene contains something so startlingly odd that you’ll want to go back and check that it really happened. Sometimes you simply have no idea what you’re looking at. It’s like a magic eye picture that never comes into focus.
The editing is baffling — scenes just end and a new one starts with no thought of pacing or storytelling. Shots are framed according to wherever the camera happened to be pointing at the time. The sets look like the aftermath of a natural disaster, with props salvaged from whatever was lying around. If the supporting cast were issued a script, it must have read, “When you see the camera pointing in your direction, act weird.” Nothing else could explain how we ended up with a ghoul woman obsessed with puddles, a gurning groundskeeper who stops to pick up rubbish even when chasing victims, and Hervé Villechaize doing whatever the fuck it is he’s doing.
As an aside, I made more notes while watching Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood than I have for any other film. More than half of them ended in exclamation marks.
As I’ve grown older, my ability to enjoy bad films has atrophied. Once, they seemed like quirky oddities, filled with hidden charms and ironic humour. Now, they usually seem, well, bad.
Somehow, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood has reactivated that part of my brain which used to love stuff like this. As objectively terrible as Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is — and it is absolutely, bone-achingly terrible — you have to admire its sheer exuberant chaos. While the rational part of my mind spent the entire runtime screaming, I still had a surprising amount of fun watching it.
One of the merits of Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is that it doesn’t waste the audience’s time. This is a short film, probably because it has almost no plot. There is very little set-up before the blood starts flowing. Characters are introduced and killed off before we get much chance to register who they were.
Possibly to offset this and bring the film up to feature-length, there is an extended dream sequence about halfway through that serves no purpose other than letting us watch the female lead run around in a nightdress. Then again, you could argue that nothing else in the film serves any purpose, so why not? At least in a dream sequence, the lack of continuity makes more sense. Also, I assume this was a dream sequence and that I hadn’t undergone a psychotic break.
Anyway, should you watch Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood? I really don’t know. While it is one of the worst-made films I’ve ever seen, it is also undeniable fun. It’s like having the distillation of ’70s exploitation cinema injected directly into your eyeballs. Hating it would be the rational, healthy reaction. I’m still unable to explain why I didn’t.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – The Mortuary Collection (2019)
- 24 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 25 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 26 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 29 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!