Released in 1973, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a low-budget horror film, and a really weird one, at that. Unseeable for nearly 30 years, it’s developed a cult following amongst connoisseurs of off-the-wall ‘70s cinema.
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood was directed by Christopher Speeth, and was his first feature film. Speeth recruited Werner Liepolt to write the screenplay for a horror film. Liepolt based his work on the legend of Sawney Bean and his family of cave-dwelling cannibals.
Exterior filming took place at Six Gun Territory, a run-down amusement park in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. The interiors were shot in a warehouse in the Philadelphia neighborhood known as Germantown.
Most of the cast were unknowns, who had little to no film experience. One such performer was Denis Dietrich, who played Malatesta. Dietrich was the heir to a family fortune and independently wealthy, thus he didn’t require payment. One of his only other film appearances was in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978).
A few of the actors did go on to have careers in TV and film. The most recognizable figure is Hervé Villechaize, in a pre-Fantasy Island role as one of the carnies. He has only a few lines, but they’re amongst the strangest bits of dialogue in the entire picture, made more so due to his thick accent, rendering most of his speech unintelligible.
The production’s budget of $100,000 was pretty low to begin with, but as most of it went towards purchasing 35mm film, there was very little money for things like set design. The art directors used whatever they could get their hands on, including orange bubble wrap, which was obtained for cheap from an Army Surplus store.
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood brings to mind two previous low-budget pictures: George Romero’s groundbreaking zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead (1968), and the spooky art film made on a shoestring—which was also set in an amusement park—Carnival of Souls (1962).
The plot: Under the guise of needing work, the Norris family take jobs at a creepy amusement park to look for their missing son/brother, believing he disappeared while visiting the park. Before long, they are hounded by a horde of cannibalistic ghouls who live in a bizarre subterranean world under the park. The ghouls are controlled by the evil Malatesta,
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is far from flawless, but like so many B-movies, its imperfections add to the enjoyment. For example, the camera work is often great, with some interesting, unusually framed shots, but since the production could only afford single takes, some glaring goofs are captured on film. For many viewers, the main issue will be the lack of clarity—the script was abandoned halfway through filming—but, for me, that only enhances its dreamlike qualities. I think fans of weird ‘70s horror will really enjoy Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood. It’s undoubtedly full of amazing imagery, with some of the more color-saturated shots reminiscent of the sort seen in Dario Argento’s giallo films.
In 1973-74, the film was widely distributed, but mainly played the southern drive-in circuit. Speeth wasn’t paid to make the picture, and was supposed to receive a share of the profits, but the distributor stiffed him. He never received a cent.
Believed for decades to be a lost film, a print was eventually discovered in an attic. It was first issued on DVD in 2003. Arrow Video’s director-approved restoration of Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood will be released shortly on a special edition Blu-ray/DVD set, complete with bonus features. Get the details and pre-order your copy via Amazon.
Christopher Speeth died earlier this year at the age of 78. Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood was his only feature film.
We’ll leave you with a fantastic eleven-minute segment from Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood. In the clip, the Norris daughter, Vena, is trying to avoid the ghouls and Mr. Blood, who runs the park, and is a very bad man (but you gotta love that name!). It’s a really trippy scene, and plays out like a waking nightmare. If this doesn’t sell you on the film, I don’t know what will. Keep in mind this slice of the picture is taken from a pre-restoration version, and that Arrow’s Blu-ray looks way better.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The bat-shit crazy supernatural horror flick, ‘Mystics in Bali’