Despite running just 75 minutes, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood—the sole directorial endeavor of a filmmaker named Christopher Speeth—packs in a whole lot of weirdness. The title suggests a schlocky gorefest in the Herschell Gordon Lewis style, and, sure enough, there’s a fair measure of a plasma-spilling violence on display. Yet there’s also a demented kind of artistry at work here. Much of the action takes place in a surreal underground community where flesh-eating zombies hang out in spaces that look as if they were decorated by interior designers tripping on LSD. What’s more, the zombies have peculiar pastimes in addition to chewing on people. In several scenes, groups of zombies mash about on the equivalent of a dancefloor while watching silent horror movies, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1925), projected onto a wall. Eerie electronic music provides the scoring for these scenes, so this movie’s version of zombie culture comes across like the world’s worst round-the-clock rave.
As for those aforementioned design elements, one standout is a VW Beetle hung upside down from a ceiling, with the front doors removed and the interior lined with what appears to be candy-apple-red bubble wrap, transforming the car into some kind of psychedelic hammock; to complete the effect, the front hood hangs open, with the hood and the exposed cargo space painted to resemble a giant mouth. Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is full of such bizarre visual excess.
Inasmuch as it’s possible to follow the story—or, most of it, anyway—the general idea is that a vampire named Mr. Blood (Jerome Dempsey) and his insidious overlord, Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich), run a carnival aboveground as a tool for luring victims into their subterranean slaughterhouse. Various members of a family get jobs at the carnival so they can look for a missing relative, whom they believe was last seen at the carnival, so one by one the villains attack the family members. However, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is such an amorphous, druggy film that the plot is inconsequential. Things just sort of happen, with the only real throughline being the viewer’s journey, Dante’s Inferno-style, through the assorted chambers of the underground lair.
It’s a safe bet some extreme-cinema fans adore this picture, because Speeth either intentionally or unintentionally breaks rules of cinematic storytelling even as he challenges boundaries of good taste. The curious should be warned that event though Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is photographed relatively well, it is in most other regards the work of a primitive artistic mind, all indulgence and whim rather than discipline and purpose. The patronizing way to absorb a picture like this is to laugh at its incompetent aspects, and the “serious” way is to parse meaning from its crude textures. With those being the available options, a third alternative—avoiding the picture entirely—might be the wisest of all.
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood: FREAKY