Written and Directed by: Leonard Kirtman
Starring: Earle Edgerton, Judith Resnick and Martin Barolsky
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Terror strikes the carnival!
I donít know if itís possible to adequately describe how much I hated the first ten minutes of Carnival of Blood, and it was all due to one character. As you might expect, it opens at a carnival, where a dopey husband and wife take in the sights and sounds. The wife, however, feels compelled to drown out those sounds with her constant, petulant nagging, and I felt like Iíd been trapped inside one of Al Bundyís most fevered nightmares, though even heíd be relieved to wake up beside Peg if he had to endure this lady. Only the interspersed opening credits offered any reprieve, except even this also started to annoy me. This is the type of stuff the mute button was likely invented for. At any rate, after this increscent bickering, these two enter one of those haunted house attractions, and the irritating lady finally shuts up--but only because her head has been lopped off. If I were a more optimistic person, I would have cheered and held out hope that this signaled better times ahead. However, at best, I can only say that I hated the remaining 80 minutes slightly less than the first ten.
This beheading is but the first in a series of slayings at this local carnival, so someoneís got to solve it, and that man is Dan (Martin Barolsky), a newly appointed assistant D.A. Actually, this isnít his job at all now, but he decides to take the case anyway, and even drags his fiancťe Laura (Judith Resnick) into it since his foolproof plan involves simply going to the carnival in the hopes of snuffing out the killer.
If this plan also involves remaining hidden so maniac eventually reveals himself, then he does a very good job. In fact, itís so good that he and Laura practically disappear for the entire movie and leave you with a seemingly endless horde of annoying, doomed-to-die couples like the one from the opening sequence. If not for all of the stabbings and gut-yankings, this would be quite a promo video for carnivals everywhere since these hopelessly stupid people donít have the decency to get slaughtered in a timely manner. Instead, theyíve got to play the various games and visit the pan-handling fortune teller who always cuts her prophecies short in ominous fashion. Carnival of Blood is so sluggish and repetitive in this respect that itís akin to being stuck on the worldís slowest tilt-a-whirl thatís also moving at half-speed, so thereís nothing dizzying about it, and you just kind of wish the idiot carnie would stop the ride.
During all of this, suspects emerge. One of them is Burt Young, who seems to be the only person here that wasnít a local plucked off the streets by director Leonard Kirtman. Actually, that isnít true since heís just as bad as anyone else--it just so happens that went on to have a fine career after this inauspicious debut, where he portrays a carnie named Gimpy. Anyway, Gimpy is hideous and has boils, therefore rendering him completely untrustworthy, especially since he leers at the carnival-goers. When he isnít doing that, heís assisting Tom (Earle Edgerton), a horse-shoe haired carnie who also happens to be friends with Laura, and heís unusually invested in her and Tomís relationship. Both he and Gimpy always seem to be sizing up anyone who plays their game, and, as it turns out, the only thing worse than a carnie is a judgmental carnie. Because everyone at this carnival seemingly has to fight with each other, these two also have a couple of arguments, wherein it becomes clear that both are a little unhinged, with the true killer not being revealed until a flashback sequence thatíd be weird and hilarious if you didnít have to sit through Carnival of Blood to get to it.
Essentially, Carnival of Blood feels like a bad rip-off of a Herschel Gordon Lewis movie, which is kind of like getting a school lunch burger instead of a Whopper. Unlike HGL, Kirtman doesnít know the value of editing, which is why his movie warbles along for so long; had it been chopped down to Blood Feast length, it could have been charmingly bad rather than agonizingly so. Also missing is any sort of skill with a camera and continuity, as there are numerous technical gaffes involving boom mics and extras, and one scene alternates between day and night with reckless abandon (and is only made funnier by a characterís insistence that they shouldnít be out ďat this time of nightĒ). Still, thereís something quite distinctive about these 60s and 70 drive-in circuit flicks; soaked in grime, nauseating zooms and a droning, electronic score that could pass as stock music, Carnival of Blood is no different. Even though it was filmed on and around Coney Island, it feels like one of those backwards, psycho-hick productions that originated elsewhere.
To draw out the HGL comparison even further, even the gore here isnít all that staggering, though there is a real, calculated grisliness to it. This is the type of movie that you should Youtube the best parts of since itís always at least a little intriguing to see explicit gore in American horror during this era; thereís something weirdly anachronistic about it, as always, since everything looks and sounds very 60s, but the content sometimes feels so sleazy and grindhouse. Carnival of Blood could thrive on that disconnect if it had any semblance of competence guiding it; instead, it just lumbers on, and itís stumbled its way onto a few public domain releases over the years. Something Weird somehow managed to give it a special edition treatment that features some TV spots, trailers for other Something Weird releases, a few short films, and a gallery of drive-in exploitation art and radio spots. Carnival of Blood is even digitally remastered and generally looks and sounds appropriately scratchy, just as it probably should. The B-side of this double feature disc is The Curse of the Headless Horseman, another carnival-themed movie. Interestingly enough, thatís the one I meant to watch when I pulled this off the shelf; I ended up getting distracted and somehow played Carnival of Blood instead. I just went with it when I should have stopped the ride myself. Trash it!
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