Review : Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood (1973)

Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood, directed by Christopher Speech, was released in 1973 and is the director’s only film. The film was thought to be lost for a long time until it was released on DVD in 2003. Since then, it has been restored and released by Arrow Video on the American Horror Project Vol. 1 boxset (which is how I watched it).

The Norris family arrive at an old, dilapidated carnival, looking for their son. Bad things begin happening and it seems to be attributed to the proprietors of the carnival. The entire thing appears to be a front, for some strange, cannibalistic, underground cult, who feast on the flesh of the visitors (source : Wikipedia)

Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood is a weird film, but not in a good way. Every aspect of the film lacks logic, from the story itself to the editing. The editing is probably the worst aspect of the film since most of the scenes make no sense given the way they are put together. For instance, characters are running around the amusement park at night, chased by ghouls (or are they zombies ? who knows !). After a rough cut which made me feel like the scene was abruptly cut right in the middle, it is daylight and another character is putting out a fire, with no transition from the previous scene.

The storytelling is poorly done and makes no sense and the story itself is poorly written. Though the family is supposed to have come to the amusement park to look for their missing son, they never do so. Another issue I have is characters who never fight back. It does look like they’re willing to let the ghouls kill them…which obviously makes no sense ! As expected from an exploitation film from the seventies, the acting is not very good but is decent enough not to put you off. There is one particular character who is laughable though, because he is portrayed in a ridiculous manner.

If that wasn’t enough, Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood has mediocre photography. I love movies which take place in somewhat original locations such as a mall, a factory or…an amusement park (which does seem like the perfect location for a horror movie). Unfortunately, the director never takes full advantage of the opportunities offered by the set designs. Whether a scene takes place in a tunnel or a spiral staircase, the camera is set in the most basic and easiest spot. 

I am understanding when it comes to special effects and make-up because there is so much filmmakers can do with a limited budget. However, Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood has poor writing, poor photography, poor editing and is overall a poorly made film. Obviously, I don’t recommend watching it…except if, like me, you are digging through Arrow Video’s American Horror Project Vol. 1 boxset.

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Review : The Burning (1981) / Madman (1982)

The Burning and Madman have one major common element : both films are based on the story of Cropsey, an urban legend about a boogeyman, popular at summer camps in New Jersey. Both slashers were in production at the same time and some elements of Madman were altered due to the similarities with The Burning, which would be released earlier. For instance, the name of the killer was changed to Madman Marz while the killer in The Burning is named Cropsy, like in the original material (minus a letter). While the production aspect of both films is interesting, let’s see which one is the best of the two, using seven points of comparison to determine each film’s strengths and weaknesses !

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The Burning is a very enjoyable slasher. While it has similarities with Friday The 13th, I didn’t feel like I was watching a rip-off at any time during the film. When an ill-advised prank misfires, summer camp caretaker Cropsy is committed to hospital with hideous burns. Released after five years, hospital officials warn him not to blame the young campers who caused his disfigurement. But no sooner is Cropsy back on the streets than he’s headed back to camp with a rusty pair of shears in hand, determined to exact his bloody revenge (Source : Arrow Video). The strength of The Burning is its characters which are portrayed in a very realistic manner and are very likable therefore the viewer is affected by their demise (and is not rooting for the killer like in the majority of slashers). I also want to note that the acting from the entire cast was very solid. The practical effects are good but Cropsy’s make-up is extremely disappointing, especially being the work of Tom Savini. I’ll go as far as stating that it does look very bad. Despite taking place in the most unoriginal of places (a summer camp), the director manages to show different locations and all are put to good use (especially the lake and the barn). The Burning is simply a great slasher which should not be regarded as a simple Friday rip-off. I highly recommend it and will conclude by (probably) shocking many readers : I enjoyed The Burning more than the first Friday The 13Th film.

Madman is a typical slasher but there is one major factor that renders it worth watching : it has good cinematography. Gather around the campfire, and hearthe tale of Madman Marz – an ill-tempered farmer who, one dark night, chopped up his wife and two children into pieces. When the locals learned of his heinous crimes, they exacted revenge – sinking an axe into his head and hanging him from a nearby tree. But the next day, Marz’s body was gone…Thus the camp counsellor finishes his tale, closing with the warning never to say Marz’s name above a whisper, lest the hideously-deformed farmer comes looking for them. Naturally, the first thing that one of the young campers does is calls out Marz’s name – precipitating a terrifying night of murder, mayhem and sexy Jacuzzi vignettes (Source : Arrow Video). The film takes place at night and the result is great. Madman is very well-shot, has a nice blue lighting throughout…and has the right amount of gore to satisfy any slasher enthusiast ! It has a good variety of kills and a very nice score. But while it has tension, it does feel slow-paced and some shots are longer than they should be. The acting was very bad, there is no character development (they are barely introduced) and the actor portraying Marz didn’t do a good job, in my opinion. Madman is a good entertaining slasher but has too many weaknesses.

While Madman has good cinematography, a good score and better kills, The Burning is still more entertaining with its lot of good characters and smart use of a typical slasher location.

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Review : Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Dead End Drive-In, one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite films, is an ozploitation film from 1986, directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Forget what you think about exploitation films, this one has substance ! But before diving into the review, I just need to point out how brilliant it is that an exploitation film, targeted at drive-in audiences, takes place…in a drive-in !

In a near future, violent gangs have taken over Australian cities and are causing havoc. To solve this issue, the authorities have decided to lure the delinquents into drive-in cinemas, turning places of entertainment into concentration camps. A couple, Crabs and Carmen, are one of those youngsters, trapped inside a drive-in. While Carmen seems to adjust to her new life, Crabs can only think about escaping.

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Dead End Drive-In was a big surprise. Often marketed as an action-packed ozploitation film, it is actually devoid of action for the majority of the film as it focuses on its social commentary. The film draws an alarming portrait of society in the 80’s as it touches on subjects such as the environment, government policy, crime and much more. Its message is made even stronger by the fact that the filmmaker, while creating a very original environment, still anchors its story into reality. Set in the not-so-distant future, the way society and crime are depicted in the first act of the film does feel realistic. It also heavily contrasts with the main location in the film : the city is shown at night, everything appears dark and gritty, while the drive-in is a colorful environment.

The main appeal of the film is, of course, its setting. It is such a fun and original concept to use a drive-in cinema in such a way. I was particularly impressed by the set design as it is both dull and colorful. The vibrant colors contrast with the concrete and the result is a brilliant mixture which emphasizes the gap between the government and those young criminals. Nothing looks more amazing than drive-in neon lights, especially to a non-american such as myself, who has never experienced watching a film in a drive-in cinema (we never had those here).

The characters are, for the most part, over-the-top in their behavior and personalities. The main character, Crabs, is a very endearing young man, who seems to thrive in adversity. Always teased for being weak by his family, he stands up for himself in this new contained environment. However, I found his girlfriend, Carmen, far less interesting. She seems to adjust a bit too quickly to this unexpected situation whereas Crabs is easier to identify with since he is as confused as the viewer by all this.

Dead End Drive-In is famous for its final car stunt and it does live up to its reputation. The final act is where the action scenes take place and it does not disappoint. Without spoiling the ending, I thought it concluded the film perfectly. Overall, Dead End Drive-In was an excellent surprise. Anticipating a mindless low-budget action fest, I was pleasantly taken aback by an intelligent, well-made and well designed film with a heavy focus on its social message. An excerpt from a definition of the term “ozploitation” reads : “ […] presenting the Australian landscape and environment as an almost spiritually malign force that alienates white Australians and frustrates both their personal ambitions and activities and their attempts to subdue it.” (source : Wikipedia). This perfectly applies to Dead End Drive-In, making it the perfect ozploitation experience.

Arrow Video is releasing Dead End Drive-In on September 19th, 2016 in a gorgeous amaray edition (if you are a regular reader of this website, you know a dedicated article about the packaging is coming very soon). The 2K restoration looks great, it is sharp yet the grain is still visible (if an exploitation film is not grainy, it is not true to its nature, in my opinion).There are not many special features included in this edition but they are very interesting, particularly the documentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith (the director) on Australian stunt performers.

Review : Matinee (1993)

Matinee, directed by the great Joe Dante, was released in 1993 and yet, it is a time capsule that will take you back to the sixties ! This love letter to B-movies is an absolute pleasure to watch for any cinephile who loves this particular aspect of cinema.

Gene lives with his mother and little brother in the Key West military base while his father, a navy officer, is at sea. The Cuba Missile Crisis is at its peak but while adults are in absolute panic, Gene only has one thing on his mind : go to the movies to watch Lawrence Woolsey’s latest horror film : Mant.

The opening sequence immerses you right away. It shows the trailer for Mant, the movie our main character wants to see. Lawrence Woolsey, the producer, presents the feature as a cheap version of Alfred Hitchcock. Mant, the film within the film, is in the pure tradition of B-movies from the 1950’s and references the genre several times. The poster is heavily inspired by the poster of Them!, a sci-fi movie from 1954 about…ants ! It is very entertaining to get to see excerpts of Mant throughout Matinee. It seems to be an alternate version of The Fly (1958) as shown, among other details, with the black fabric on the man/creature’s head. All those details about Mant just enhance the feeling that you are watching a film directed by someone who is as passionate as you also probably are.

Setting the film during the missile crisis emphasizes one of the film’s most important message and one that is very dear to my cinephile’s heart : movies can, at least for a short while, make you forget about the worries of the real world. Such an endearing message ! But Matinee has multiple facets : it is a comedy, a drama, a charming coming-of-age story, a portrait of society in the early 1960’s. However, it never feels like a melting pot of random elements : every aspect is essential to the story.

As mentionned above, Matinee also focuses on cinema and this is definitely the most appeling side of the film. There are details throughout to please every horror aficionado : it is set during the Halloween season so there are decorations everywhere, Gene is seen reading horror magazines on several occasions and…his last name is Loomis ! It is also interesting to get a glimpse at several aspects of the independant film industry : movie marketing, promotion, gimmicks etc… I also loved how Joe Dante captures the magic of cinema from the spectator’s point of view. In a world prior to the internet, you can’t help but feel Gene’s anticipation to see this new horror film.
To conclude, Matinee is a beautiful coming-of-age story that every film fanatic should see. Good directing, good acting, lovable characters, references to horror classics… the film has all the ingredients to put you in a good mood as you can’t help but nod when a character talks about what’s so great about cinema

 

Review : Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)

Count Yorga, Vampire was directed by Bob Kelljan and was released in 1970. This exploitation film stars Robert Quarry as the mysterious Count Yorga. First conceived as a softcore porn and entitled The Loves Of Count Iorga, the end result is a straight horror film, thanks to Robert Quarry.

Count Yorga is a vampire living in a Los Angeles mansion with his brides. To hide his true nature, he presents himself as an expert on séances. A group of friends invite Count Yorga to perform a séance in order to contact Donna’s recently deceased mother. After giving the Count a ride home, Michael and Erica’s van gets stuck in the mud and they end up spending the night on Count Yorga’s property. After being attacked by Count Yorga, Erica develops unusual symptoms. When she disappears, her friends confront the Count, who they suspect is a creature of the night !

Count Yorga, Vampire is 1970’s exploitation at its finest ! It remains in the tradition of classic vampire films of previous decades while adapting the story to modern settings. I found the movie to be a very refreshing take on the vampire genre. Furthermore, it doesn’t feel like a rehash of the story we have seen a thousand times before but instead, the film is an entertaining modernized version of this classic tale.

The highlight of the film is Robert Quarry’s performance as Count Yorga. He portrays a charismatic and enigmatic character. Very charming and refined, it is not surprising that female characters fall under his spell. I especially enjoyed his interactions with human characters ; all the confrontation scenes are well written with very good dialogue.

Though the female characters are very weak, the supporting cast does a decent job. I especially liked the characters’ reaction to the doctor’s theory that Count Yorga might be a vampire. It’s very realistic, going from surprised looks of disbelief to mockery.

The strenght of the film resides in its third act, where most of the action takes place. Though there is no real tension throughout, it has a great atmosphere and ends on a high note. The shocking ending is going to surprise you and you will definitely remember it (along with a famous kitten scene which was heavily edited upon release because of its content).

With its lot of fake teeth and bright red blood, Count Yorga, Vampire is an extremely entertaining vampire film. If you enjoy exploitation films, this one is a must-see.

Arrow Video is releasing the film in a double-feature with its sequel on August 8th, 2016. This edition includes two audio commentaries (one for each film) by David Del Valle, a journalist and film historian. The most interesting feature is an interview with critic and author Kim Newman in which he gives a lot of details on the production of the films and Robert Quarry’s career. A must-see to better understand these exploitation delights !