"Malatesta's Carnival of Blood" (1973) d/ Christopher Speeth
What if Ray Dennis Steckler decided to make Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972), with a lower budget, in a dilapidated amusement park in Pennsylvania, while tripping his face off on a sheet of blotter acid? You might end up with something like tonight's review, a regional Nixon-era horror movie shot mostly in Willow Grove Park in Montgomery County, a northern suburb of Philadelphia, that stars none other than everyone's favorite midget with a spastic colon, Herve' "Tattoo" Villechaize, Jerome Dempsey, and Daniel Dietrich, who you may remember as Givens, the television manager who demands that out-of-date supers remain on the air in George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978). You may remember him, but nobody'd hold it against you if you didn't. The same goes for this movie, which recently resurfaced from the murkiest depths of obscurity when a single print that allegedly briefly played the drive-in circuit down south, was discovered in an attic somewhere.
"Comeouttathatcaravan, yedertyshiiteinabucketye, an' bringyerstones!"
When Vena (Janine Carazo) and her parents gain employment in a carnival that's run by Mr. Blood (Jerome Dempsey), a vampire that strongly resembles Kelsey Grammer, and overseen by a mustached guy in a cape named Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich), they quickly realize that they may be in over their heads when a family with a bratty little girl goes missing after riding the Tunnel of Love together, a broken pair of glasses and some stage blood being their only legacy. Mr. Norris (Paul Hostetler) wears a moth-eaten bathrobe, drinks bottled beer in the family trailer, and plays with his .38 snub nose, while Mrs. Norris (Betsy Henn) never takes the curlers out of her hair. Outside the trailer, there's a community of cannibals in theatrical makeup that watch vintage black and white horror movies in the catacombs below the park, when they're not beheading foolish pot smokers looking for a late night ride on the roller coaster. You've also got a gypsy fortune teller with an Adam's apple, a cross-eyed Richard Harris lookalike who skewers unsuspecting patrons with a garbage sticker, a guy named Bean with a hook for a hand (not really), and a dwarf named Bobo (Herve' Villechaize).
A Man on Horse: Looks like Richard Harris got lost on his way to MacArthur Park in the dark and ended up in Needle Park instead.
Mr. Blood has a sudden change of heart, and decides to help Vena escape, before extracting some blood from a vein in her arm and drinking it from a bottle like some Cherikee Red. The Norris' venture out of the trailer (he in his shabby bathrobe, she in her curlers) to look for their daughter, first setting the caravan on fire to alert the police in neighboring towns (!), while Vena experiences odd day-for-nightmares involving mylar sheets, plastic, and the groovy frame of a Volkswagen Beetle hung upside down from ceiling chains like a weird porch swing/ car accident. Her boyfriend Johnny (Paul Townsend) finally shows up to look for her, just as Blood is extinguishing the smoldering remains of her parents' trailer, and when he later grasps Malatesta's neck while seeking the truth, the proprietor's head turns into bubble wrap and a wig. Everybody dies eventually, and in the end we see Malatesta riding the parachutes with other paying customers, who may or may not get eaten by the cannibals afterwards. Who can tell for sure...
"Very considerate of you cannibal carnys to lay plastic sheets down before devouring me..."
At the time of filming, Willow Grove Park was known as Six Gun Territory, the name it went by until it was closed in April of 1976. The mall that was later erected in its place has a merry go round inside it (the ride, not the 90's clothing store for douchebags). According to the film's official website, the director Speeth went on to shoot experimental films and documentaries, and his footage has appeared in television shows like America's Most Wanted, NightLine, and Final Justice. American Zoetrope finally released the bizarre-assed movie on DVD, for those who dig their horror with little rhyme (provided by Villechaize in his thick French accent, naturally), less reason, and heavy with hippie-soaked psychedelia. Though the acting reeks of a Ren Faire somewhere, the edits look like they were made with a circular saw, and there are no attractive, nude, blood-covered girls to speak of, you might find the whole thing interesting under the right circumstances*. One wop.
When you're taking a break from evil, nothing beats riding the parachutes.