Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood Blu-ray Review

An Obscure American Horror Film with Ghouls and Evil Dwarfs

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood was a lost film for many years, eventually saved some years ago around the turn of the millennium. Made in 1973, the surreal horror movie didn’t see a release until its director, Christopher Speeth, rescued it. Those expecting a tight, coherent, frightening horror movie should probably look elsewhere.

What the movie happens to be is an extremely low-budget film made for the drive-in theaters of its day. Lacking a conventional narrative, the only recognizable face in it is Herve Villechaize as an evil dwarf henchman, years before he would become a television star on Fantasy Island. This movie is for cult collectors with a penchant for bizarre imagery and oddball characters.

Speeth’s film has one major thing going for it: a perfectly creepy setting that almost exists outside of time. Shot in Pennsylvania at a dying amusement park in its death throes, the setting breathes with an air of aging menace. Did I mention the flesh-eating ghouls that happen to live underneath it?

Filled with a psychedelic array of nightmarish imagery, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is one of those movies that aspires to be more than just another forgettable B-movie with its off-beat, eccentric set design and eclectic music, but mostly fails in every way that matters. Throwing ghouls, dwarfs, cannibals and pseudo-vampires at the audience in a confused narrative, most of its entertainment value stems from its kitschy cult approach.

One of the film’s biggest weaknesses is its young female lead actress…

The plot concerns a family looking for their missing son at a nearly abandoned carnival. Customers seem to be few and far between at the run-down, rotting venue. The big feature at the carnival is a tunnel of love ride, an old-fashioned amusement ride that usually ends in beheaded passengers. Vena Norris (Janine Carazo) and her parents (Paul Hostetler and Betsy Henn) contact the creepy Mr. Blood, the business manager at this carnival, looking for work as an excuse to investigate their son’s disappearance. The young Vena soon becomes friendly with Kit, another young worker at the carnival. Malatesta is the mysterious owner of the carnival, a shadowy figure everyone at the carnival fears.

The movie is a real trip, replete with hammy acting performances and shoddy special effects. Most of the time in these Seventies’ drive-in thrillers, you could count on a charismatic female lead. One of the film’s biggest weaknesses is its young female lead actress, Janine Carazo. She stumbles through the movie in a daze, unable to overcome the surrealist nightmare’s lack of frights. The rest of the cast isn’t much better. When Malatesta finally does show up, it is a real letdown. He is a poor ultimate villain, flailing around in a cheap cape.

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood might provide some nostalgia for drive-in fans but its cheap, erratic storytelling is strictly for serious cult enthusiasts.

Movie ★★☆☆☆

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood Blu-ray screen shot 7

The 1973 production hits Blu-ray for the first time in a mildly questionable film transfer. Taken from secondary film elements, a somewhat battered 35mm print, it appears heavy filtering has been applied throughout the transfer on some level. That is surprising given Arrow Video’s commitment to film-like presentations, but the erratic and rough nature of these film elements may have necessitated the DNR.

The 74-minute main feature receives a fine AVC video encode on a BD-50. Presented in its intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is not award-winning cinematography. Some jitter can be seen in the camera. The low-budget chiller includes a lot of ambitious, dream-like imagery that doesn’t always work.

Despite the limited detail left in the soft print, clarity remains fairly high. Decent black levels are mildly affected by the inconsistent lighting, which changes for certain key scenes. Faint pulsing and minor telecine wobble are evident at times. Keep your expectations low, this is on the poorer end of Arrow Video’s usually magnificent film preservation efforts.

Video ★☆☆☆☆

The original mono soundtrack is heard in steady, coherent 1.0 PCM audio. The audio recording has aged better than the surviving film print, this is fine fidelity for a forgotten, low-budget horror movie from decades ago. Dialogue is cleanly heard and its trippy musical score and effects work out nicely. Serviceable audio quality without serious deficiencies.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is only available for the moment in a limited edition set, Arrow Video’s American Horror Project: Volume 1. The six-disc set comes with three movies, the other films being The Premonition and The Witch Who Came From the Sea. Each film comes on a Blu-ray and DVD edition in the set.

A lot of thought and effort was put into the packaging, it’s a handsome and lavish affair that almost feels too classy for three obscure, underground genre movies. Arrow Video always treats each release like it is a prize-winning film, which is why the company is so beloved by collectors. Commissioning new special features for an obscure movie like Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is amazing.

Reversible sleeves for each film features original movie posters and newly-commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil. A limited edition 60-page booklet has new articles on the films from Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990).

Optional Introduction (3:41 in HD) – Genre expert Stephen Thrower gives a brief recap of the film’s history.

Audio Commentary – A solo discussion by Richard Harland Smith, a true fan of the movie and film historian. His commentary likes comparing and contrasting other similar horror movies, though he does cover the cast and crew very well in his talk.

The Secrets of Malatesta (14:06 in HD) – An interview with director Christopher Speeth as he goes over his memories of the cast and making the movie.

Crimson Speak (11:49 in HD) – Interview with writer Werner Liepolt in which he discusses its themes and influences.

Malatesta’s Underground (10:10 in HD) – A featurette with art directors Richard Stange and Alan Johnson. They discuss the set design and how it was constructed.

Outtakes (02:59 in HD)

Gallery – Dozens of promotional stills and posters

Extras ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.