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Malatesta's Carnival of Blood
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary by Richard Harland
  • Brand new interview with director Christopher Speeth
  • Brand new interview with writer Werner Liepolt
  • Interviews with Richard Spange and Alan Johnson
  • Draft Script (BD/DVD-ROM content)
  • Production stills gallery

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood

Dual-Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Christopher Speeth
1973 | 74 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $99.95 | Series: Arrow Video
MVD Visual

Release Date: February 23, 2016
Review Date: March 8, 2016

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SYNOPSIS

Roll up, roll up! Step right up for Malatesta's Carnival of Blood, the grisliest freakiest show in town! Virtually impossible to find until its revival on DVD in the early 2000s, this 1973 cult oddity, from one-time director Christopher Speeth, is a cinematic experience like no other.

Arriving at a creepy, dilapidated fairground under the premise of looking for work, the Norris family are hoping to track down their missing son, who, they believe, is somewhere in the park. But it's not long before they find themselves at the mercy of the fairground's fiendish proprietors and the cannibalistic ghouls lurking in the caverns below.

Filmed at the Willow Grove amusement park in Pennsylvania, Malatesta's Carnival of Blood is a mind-melting phantasmagoria of carnie craziness which blends elements of Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls, adding an (un)healthy dose of Herschell Gordon Lewis-style gore for good measure.


PICTURE

Arrow Video presents Christopher Speeth’s Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood in a new dual-format edition, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in 1080p/24hz high-def and in standard definition on a single-layer DVD. The latter presentation has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. This edition is the first title in Arrow’s American Horror Project, Volume One box set; it is also exclusive to the set. Shockingly the movie was actually filmed in 35mm. The transfer notes don’t specify exactly what the source materials were other than they were “vault materials.”

The restoration work is a bit limited but this still comes off looking far better than I would have expected. Tram lines, some larger scratches, frame shifts, jitter, and colour fluctuations are fairly common throughout the film, but minor marks like dirt, debris, and smaller scratches, which still pop up, aren’t as heavy as I would have guessed. Colours do look washed out, and there’s a yellowish tinge to everything; whether this is how it’s supposed to look or not I don’t know, but either way, this aspect certainly dates it and gives it that grindhouse look.

But, despite the general shape of the materials, Arrow delivers a very strong digital presentation on both the Blu-ray and DVD (the latter of which I admittedly only sampled). It’s a very clean looking presentation, rendering film grain rather nicely, and I was surprised at how sharp and detailed the image could be (which effectively makes the cheapness of the production even more obvious). Black levels are a bit hit and miss, and crushing is an issue and shadow detail is limited.

Of the two versions the Blu-ray is clearly better, but the DVD isn’t a slouch itself. Despite the expected compression and other limitations the DVD looks very clean.

In the end it might be open to improvement in terms of restoration work, but I think it still exceeded my expectations and the digital transfer itself is up to Arrow’s usual standards.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film’s audio is a bit rough but Arrow does what they can. Presented in lossless PCM 1.0 mono on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital 1.0 on the DVD, the track has some noticeable background noise, from a slight hiss to minor fluctuations but could otherwise be substantially worse; high praise, I know, but I was expecting a mess, and another title on this set, the more professionally done The Witch Who Came in From the Sea shows far more problems in its track. But, despite this track still showcasing some noise in the background dialogue sounds clear at least, even if its range is limited. The film also experiments with sound effects to create a creepy atmosphere (this is discussed in the supplements), though ultimately is probably more annoying than creepy, and these effects come off fairly hollow and flat, and a little harsh at time.

Again, I feel Arrow has done what they can with the track, but I think it comes down to the equipment used and the age of the track.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Arrow puts together a modestly assembled set of supplements, starting with a quick optional introduction featuring Stephen Thrower, who talks a bit about the film’s history and how hard it was to see (looking online I see it was at one point considered lost, and it appears interest spiked after a glowing article was written about it in “The Monster Times”).

Getting into the meat of supplements we first get an audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith, who helms the Turner Classic Movies horror blog. Smith arrives with guns drawn to defend and praise the film, admitting right off that he “loves everything” about the film, from its very experimental nature, to its obviously limited budget (as one will see when viewing the film the production team made great use of bubble wrap that was dumped by the military) to its nonsensical plot, which he likes to think represents some sort of “Möbius strip.” Along the way he talks, in great detail, about the film’s production locations and the performers, while also sharing other stories about the production, including how the film’s sound design came about. While it’s loaded with details I found that, ultimately, I didn’t care much for it. Smith claims he has a love for the film but that never truly comes through and is never catching. While trudging through it I thought of Chris Alexander’s commentaries for Arrow’s releases of The Black Cat and Contamination—two films I really didn’t care for—where his love for those films were rather infectious, making me look at them in slightly different ways while gaining some appreciation for them because he was able to explain why these films worked for him. I never got the why here, and I don’t think I understand Smith’s love for the film where I certainly understood Alexander’s love for those films. Instead I got a track that delivers an interesting production history but not much else. Maybe fans of the film will get something out of it, but it’s certainly not going to help the film win over any converts.

Arrow then provides a number of new interviews, starting with director Christopher Speeth. For 14-minutes he gives an account on how the production came about (a chance meeting on a plane with Richard Grosser started the project) and then the difficulties of doing his first actual feature with such a limited budget (though that didn’t stop him from filming in 35mm). He shares a number of stories about the production and the cast, but I was more interested in his discussion of the sound effects, which his brother—a psychoanalyst who was interested in how sounds influenced people—helped him with, as well as details about its distribution, which wasn’t easy since some theaters were turned off by the gore. He also sadly shares why he never directed another feature film. It’s an honest interview, Speeth recognizing the faults of the film, but he’s still proud of certain aspects of it and he explains what those are. A rather good interview.

Writer Werner Liepolt talks about writing the screenplay to the film, which was actually dumped during production when Speeth decided to go a more improvisational route. It’s hard to get a grasp on whether Liepolt likes the film or is maybe a little bitter about his script being abandoned (he says a few times throughout that his script was far “tighter” and made more sense than the actual finished film), but he does seem to defend it a bit when talking about the poor reception the film experienced, explaining the film was probably more “Fellini Satyricon” than a typical monster movie at the time.

We then get a short 10-minute segment featuring interviews with production designers Richard Spange and Alan Johnson. Focusing on the set design for the underground lair the two talk about their severe limitations and how they made due with what they had to work with, literally working with garbage (including that abandoned orange/red bubble wrap) to make it work. The film called for everybody working on set to use whatever skills they had to help out and they seem happy with what they were able to accomplish, though they admit the film still looks cheap. Like the previous interviews the participants are honest: they didn’t care for the script and obviously don’t think too highly of the finished product, but they did what they could for it.

The release then closes with 3-minutes’ of outtakes, though it appears to technically only be a few seconds’ worth, with footage found in the film wrapping around the actual outtakes. There is then a small photo gallery featuring a poster and then around 36 production photos. You’ll also find a PDF copy of the script on both the DVD and Blu-ray that you can access by popping the disc into either a computer BD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive and opening the disc directory.

Not a stacked release by any means but I’m still impressed at the effort Arrow has put in to releasing this still relatively obscure film. I enjoyed going through the material and was rather fascinated by the film’s production.

7/10

CLOSING

This film (and really, the set as a whole) is truly for the hardcore horror fans. I think those with a passing interest in the genre (or at least 70’s American indie horror in general) won’t find much in this. But those who love this stuff and/or this film should be impressed with what Arrow has put together here. Yes, the presentation is open to improvement but it still looks very film-like, and Arrow puts together a nice set of supplements. A nice release in the end.




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