The Greatest Show On Earth, Part 3: Ooh, My Brain Hurts… MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Arrow. 18.

Hived off from Arrow’s earlier American Horror Project Volume 1 set, here’s a stand alone release of the only feature release from documentarian Christopher Speeth. For many years this 1973 effort was considered a lost film and no doubt there will be many who wish it had stayed that way. In his introduction to the film, Nightmare USA  author Stephen Thrower advises that the best way to approach Malatesta’s Carnival Of Carnival Blood is to suspend one’s expectations of any sort of linear narrative. Better still, one could hoist them up into the rafters and beat them energetically with sticks, like some kind of piñata of preconceptions.

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Nice legs. Just saying…

The film does kick off with suggestions of a plot of sorts, albeit a very weird and weedy one. A couple of families have started living and working at the eponymous down-at-heel fairground but when not manning the coconut shy and hook-a-duck stands they are surreptitiously searching for their relatives, who disappeared while visiting it. Nobody thinks about calling in the police, it’s just business as usual, even when (and in this respect MCOB reminds me of nothing so much as Umberto Lenzi’s totally out-of-wack giallo, Eyeball) further people are gorily bumped off, e.g. in a roller coaster decapitation. Mr Malatesta is nowhere to be seen (probably dodging Health & Safety inspectors) until the end of the picture and his underling (below) Mr Blood’s attempts at reassurance fall

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predictably flat. Seems that these guys are running a cult whose members believe that drinking human blood and eating human flesh will prolong their lifespans… not exactly a novel idea here at The House Of Freudstein, though it has to be said that most of the cultists aren’t looking too great on this diet…

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…. and don’t start me on that fucking midget from Fantasy Island as “Bobo”!

Scriptwriter Werner Liepolt reveals, in a bonus interview here, that he was trying to say something about the Eucharist and the pagan festivals it superceded by updating the true story of Sawney Bean and his cannibal clan. Keep on taking the tablets, Werner. He complains that director Speeth (also interviewed herein) departed from his screenplay early on to mount the increasingly episodic, psychedelic and surrealistic spectacle that has been passed down to us as Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood.

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“We’ve had a lot of accidents…”

You could argue that the dilapidated fun fair, with its broken down attractions themed around pioneers and prospectors, suggests the American dream going to seed (MCOB’s Pennsylvania setting looks like “The Rust Belt” decades before that term came into vogue) and the savage realities behind both the frontier myths and the increasingly moribund capitalism which feeds on them… but if you don’t, we needn’t fall out about it, OK?

There are moments where Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood plays like a run-of-the-mill Romero re-run… other times, it suggests a time-travelling sequel to Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse which Alejandro Jodorowsky scripted but was then obliged, by previous commitments, to hand over to Ed Wood and Jean Rollin, who directed alternate scenes.

Own up… you want to watch it now, don’t you?

P.S. At the time of posting this review I hadn’t yet had the chance to check out the disc’s commentary track by film historian Richard Harland Smith, which no less a pundit than Darrell Buxton advises me is “the very best (he has) ever heard”. Will be rectifying this omission as a matter of urgency.

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