MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (1973) Reviews and overview

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‘You’ll shriek with horror!… as you watch his victims take a diabolical roller-coaster to bloody death’

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a 1973 American horror film written and directed by Christopher Speeth.

The movie stars Hervé Villachaize (SeizureFantasy Island TV series), Jerome Dempsey, William Preston, Lenny Baker and Janine Carazo.

Until its September 2003 DVD release by Windmill Films, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood was considered a lost film.

Previously available as part of Arrow Video’s 2016 American Horror Project collection, the film is released as a standalone Blu-ray and DVD on December 4th (UK) and 5th (US), 2017.


Vena Norris and her parents get jobs at Mr. Malatesta’s carnival running a midway games booth. In fact  Vena’s brother disappeared one night while visiting the evil attraction, and his kinfolk are convinced they can discover what happened to him by scamming teenagers out of their allowances. What they do learn is pretty strange indeed…


Mr. Blood, who manages the rundown and derelict place, is actually a vampire, and needs the blood of tourists to stay alive. The carnival itself is manned by a family of cannibals, all of whom have been taught to eat human flesh by their deranged father, Mr. Bean.

Any visitor who stumbles into the wrong place at the wrong time will find themselves in an evil underground lair where Mr. Malatesta himself does insane autopsy-like experiments and screens old horror films, much to the vampire’s delight. The Norris’ enter the lair…

There’s nothing quite as fantastically weird as 1970s American horror cinema. Oh sure, it never quite had the reputation of its Euro horror counterpart, yet the fact remains that the most bizarre, unique and delirious cinema ever made tended to emerge from the US indie scene in that era.

A combination of elements – being unshackled from censorship, mainstream distribution requirements – and an outsider approach to filmmaking that often meant a collision of arthouse and exploitation, these films are not always good – but there’s something so utterly odd about them that even the dullest often linger longer in the memory than you might expect.

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is batshit crazy. This is genuine outsider cinema – director Christopher Speeth didn’t make anything else – and is a chaotic, yet oddly satisfying collision of low-budget exploitation and the avant-garde underground.

Certainly, the film doesn’t follow any of the conventional rules of filmmaking – the narrative is fractured and borderline incoherent (and when the plot finally starts to come together, the film actually becomes less interesting), the characters are bizarre and cartoonish, the dialogue rarely makes any sense and Speeth’s directing and editing style is unusual to say the least.

Yet this is what makes the film so oddly compelling. In a world where everything looks, feels and sounds interchangeable, it’s a thrill to see something so completely removed from normality – and unlike some modern films that play with / remove narrative, this doesn’t feel remotely contrived or arrogant. Speeth wasn’t attempting to show how intellectually superior he was – he was trying to make a commercial horror film, and this is what somehow emerged.

Set in a run down fairground, the story just about follows the fate of visitors who are attacked by the weird monsters who make up the staff – there are zombie like creatures who spend much of their time watching silent movies, psycho killers, vampires and more (including dwarf Hervé Villechaize, later to achieve fame on TV’s Fantasy Island) dotted throughout, as if Speeth was simply cherry picking bits from popular horror and mixing them all together in a weird, psychedelic brew.

The resulting movie is fascinating – close to a real nightmare and not dissimilar to the trippiest Euro horror of the era, but with a more amateurish and so entirely unique slant. It’s pretty extraordinary, but again will not be for everyone.

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

“Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is an extremely entertaining piece of drive-in trash, and even though some may consider drive-in films to be the lowest of the low, bear in mind that Carnival of Blood still retains an odd sense of style, and some moments are still genuinely beyond creepy.” Lawrence P. Raffel, Monsters at Play

“Beautifully photographed, imaginatively designed, far-out in conception and successfully bonkers at least half the time, Malatesta’s  Carnival of Blood is unlike anything you have ever seen before… Christopher Speeth should be proud to have made such an unconventional, defiantly stylish  and dreamlike film, in a country where the horror genre often falls into predictable pigeonholes.” Stephen Thrower, Nightmare, USA

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In March 2016 the film was released in the US on Blu-ray by Arrow Video as part of the American Horror Project box set.


Film Facts:

This film should not be confused with Leonard Kirtman’s Carnival of Blood (1970).

Watch the trailer on YouTube

For ambitious weirdness, despite clear issues:

MOVIES and MANIA rating:

Suggested double-bill:

Carnival of Souls (1962)

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