Friday, February 18, 2022

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood


Malatesta's Carnival of Blood
Christopher Speeth

Italian horror cinema of the 1970s and 1980s is well known for its surreal approach to the genre. Story elements trade narrative clarity for a twisting dream logic punctuated with heightened gore sequences. Less celebrated but just as interesting and surreal are a number of small American horror films from this same period. Malatesta’s Carnival or Horror was lost for decades until the 2000s when the director released his film independently, and thankfully so because we have a film that can join Messiah of Evil (1973) in the ranks of nightmarish horror films from this era.

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood lives in the dingy dark places that lurk behind the scenes at a carnival. While the outside of the carnival is off putting, what is lurking behind the scenes is almost unthinkable to everyday human experience; strange magicians, hordes of cannibals stuck watching only silent movies, and a series of caves holding ancient things. Walking into this are the Norrises (Paul Hostetler and Betsy Henn) posing as carnival workers but really there to look for their missing daughter. They will not like what they find.


"Children of the night, what music they maaaaaaaa..."

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood exists a series of scenes that often only feel tangentially related to each other, plot elements weave in and out of each other ans don't start to coalesce until much later in the story. Like a dream there are many questions that are left unanswered by the end. While the couple searching for their daughter is the main(?) narrative element, we have a few others including a vampire curse, the history of the carnival, and a young man (Paul Townsend) facing his disillusionment with his job as a carnival barker. We also get a cult celebrity Hervé Villechaize as a poetry reciting prophet of sorts.

Performances all around are good. The standout being Blood (Jerome Dempsey), who is just as sinister as he appears to be but is also given a tragic background that I can’t say exactly humanizes him but it does give him a humanity of sorts. Malatesta himself is suitably evil and mysterious, I especially enjoyed that not only is his face hidden until well into the film, but we’re also never sure if it’s actually him. Malatesta is gifted with many faces and some of them are quite dangerous. He never seems fully human and it is effectively creepy in the way that it is presented. The carnival itself is its own character, a being lingering before death that reaches out to consume what it can to stay alive just a little longer. 


"I know where this anime is going."


Malatesta's Carnival of Blood is a fantastic slow burn of a film that grows increasingly strange and dreamlike. The carnival is a common place for horror films to be set and this film makes great use of the decrepit surroundings and the even dingier behind the scenes places where the real horror takes root. This is a great example of what low budget indie horror can achieve. Highly recommended.

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