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Carnival Of Blood (1970)

Directed by Leonard Kirtman
Something Weird DVD

THE FILMS
Nothing feels like those “First Half of the 70s” American Horror films. With no formula in place, they did whatever they thought would scare people. And, that involved actual scare tactics, lots of gore, sleaziness, downbeat endings and anything else they could think of. Oh, throw big sloppy synths in there, too.

Some of these were like horror movies of old. Some of these were mysteries. Some of them followed psycho killers around. Some of them went there own way, into odd, odd places where boredom rode tandem with insanity.

Hi, Leonard Kirtman. Hello, Carnival Of Blood.

Coney Island. We’re at one of those games that involve throwing darts at balloons and winning stuffed animals that, frankly, look crappy but seem to be the height of Carnival Prize Junk. I suppose it’s not the prize itself; it’s the excitement involved in winning it. The thrill of the darts being thrown, the water being sprayed, things being tossed or what have you.

I love carnivals. I love to ride the slightly-scary rides. For some reason, I prefer to watch others play the games. I think if I had an endless supply of cash there would be games played all night long. But, I could feel the scam rising off of some of the games. And, I couldn’t allow myself to spend my money on something like that. I’d rather buy a Fat Pack of Fried Dough and a watery soft drink of some sort.

Tom and Gimpy run the stand in this movie. And, the people flood by and some stop and play. Some lose, some win. Some die. Well, it can’t all be pizza and Fried Oreos. Gimpy has a hunchback and gets angry. He seems very suspicious. Tom seems like a regular guy. Unless you start to talk to him, then he ends up seeming a little odd too. A local attorney is roping in his artiste girlfriend to help out investigating the murders. The whole thing doesn’t need to be a mystery. It could have been some random fella coming in and killing everyone. But, there is a bit of mystery here, which is not much of a mystery in the end.

The movie has a glorious cyclic structure to it. A couple (or, in once case, a woman) show up and argue or stumble around the carnival. They play the dart throwing game. They incur the wrath of Tom & Gimpy. They go to the fortune teller. The woman is horribly mutilated. The attorney talks to his girlfriend. They argue. Repeat.

The actors wander through the place passing by endless crowds of people. Many of them stare directly at the camera. Sometimes the boom is in shot. But, it’s so obviously in shot most of the time that it took me ages to realize that it was the boom. It’s like the sun. You don’t pay attention to it unless someone points it out.

Folk-type songs float across the soundtrack, including one about carnivals. Synths flap all over the soundtrack. They don’t seem to make music. They just make odd noises and set weird, weird moods. It matches the strange, red, wet blood that seems to flow into everything.

There’s something about a horror film (or any film, really) set in a certain place at a certain time. I’m pretty sure Coney Island doesn’t look like this anymore. So, to see everyone meander around it is a joy. It’s the exact opposite of timeless but it’s not dated. It’s right of that time. “Dated”, I think, implies that whatever it was is trying to be of its time. Carnival Of Blood is not of its nothing. Kirtman just took the cameras down there and shot. It’s all so off-the-cuff that the proprietors may not have even known that this movie was occurring. Wouldn’t that make it even more exciting?

The quality of the film is what it is. It’s poorly made. Poorly written (if, indeed, it was). And, the structure can put you right to sleep. But, if you watch the movie purely to see a horror film that is as slick as anything else, well, I don’t know why you’re reading this. Maltin still publishes a yearly thing, I believe. He’ll help you. There was a remake of Prom Night a few years ago. Check It Out!

Carnival Of Blood is an experience. It’s 88 minutes of oddballery. A strange burp of a film that sits in my mind long after I watch it. When it ends, I want to watch it again. And, I want to watch it’s co-feature Curse Of The Headless Horseman, of which more shortly.

AUDIO AND VIDEO
Very rough shape. The film is saturated with green emulsion lines, scratches, and general noise. In this case, the lower-than-normal quality of the print isn’t a big deal at all. The gritty aesthetic of Carnival seems tailor made for this kind of presentation.

EXTRAS
Not as many supplements as other Something Weird double features, but definitely some great stuff. Two TV spots for the features and several similarly-themed trailers are present, all of which make for a super fun watch. There’s also a gallery of horror poster and ad art, which carries over from several other SWV discs.

Aha, and the short subjects. Included here are The Hunchback Of Massapequa Park and Hands Of Justice, two teenaged Super 8 films from the 70s. This is the kind of stuff we love. Completely unknown and seemingly picked straight from an old attic somewhere, these two wonders flow with youthful good times. Hunchback runs six minutes and follows around a teenaged, fake-mustached hunchback as he terrorizes suburbia. In Hands Of Justice, our hero, Roy, daydreams about various gory revenge scenarios involving the thug that mugged him. If you enjoy this sort of thing, you must see them. Rounding out the shorts is an old soundie reel titled Carnival Show. It’s in great shape and contains a few singing and dancing bits with a carnival barker.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I don’t believe that Leonard Kirtman was a weird man. But, this film is sort of like, if you don’t, for example, cook and you sit down with a recipe or you’ve seen someone make something and you think “I can do that!”…And, you start to cook…maybe you follow the recipe or maybe you don’t. An hour later, you have created something that looks wrong, maybe tastes wrong or is so different from what you wanted to do that no one can figure out what the heck you’ve done.

This film is like that meal, with Burt Young as seasoning.