In 1972, Werner Liepolt was a Bedford Junior High School English teacher. Today, as Halloween approaches, is a good time to remember those long-ago days.
Fellow Annenberg School of Communications graduate Christopher Speeth had secured a soon-to-be-demolished amusement park as a set, raised enough money to rent a 35mm camera and hired some actors. Knowing of Liepolt’s off-Broadway credits, he asked him to write a horror movie.
Liepolt told his 9th graders about his script. It involved a carnival that consumed its customers. He tested scenes on them, and revised it based on their reactions.
“My students were my idea of a perfect horror movie audience,” Liepolt recalls. “They were impeccable critics of the macabre.” The film that emerged was “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood.”
It was released for a limited run at Texas drive-ins. Liepolt saw it at one screening. His students never did. The movie disappeared.
A former student managed a seafood restaurant and store. For years, every time Liepolt bought shellfish or went to dinner, he asked about the film. The teacher never had any news. But “his faith in it convinced me of its worth,” Liepolt says.
Four decades later — in 2003 — others realized that worth too. Speeth dug the movie out, sent it to Lucas and Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, and convinced them to remaster it.
In 2007 British horror film aficionado Stephen Thrower saw a screening. He gave Speeth and Liepolt’s work a chapter in his acclaimed, encyclopedic “Nightmare USA.”
Word spread. Amazon sold copies of the DVD.
Liepolt’s son Jamie and some classmates at College of the Atlantic unearthed it, and screened it. He alerted his dad that “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” was alive. (Or, Liepolt notes, “had joined the ranks of the walking dead”).
Last month, Arrow Films — which negotiated the rights to redistribute the film — asked Liepolt for an interview. A crew from LA arrived at his Westport home several days ago. They’ll use 40 minutes as part of a DVD bonus package.
“I was as surprised as they were that I remembered so much about the writing and the shoot,” Liepolt says. They may even include a digital copy of the shooting script that he preserved.
Liepolt also provided Arrow with photos of actors he recruited for the film. Herve Villechaize — famous for his roles in a Bond film and the “Fantasy Island” TV series — began his theatrical career in Leipolt’s American Place Theater production of “The Young Master Dante.” He said he wanted — theatrically — to commit a murder in a certain gruesome way. Liepolt obliged.
The writer also recruited Lenny Baker, who went on to headline on Broadway (“I Love My Wife”) and starred in films (“Last Stop Greenwich Village”).
“That ‘Malatesta’ emerged from the crypt astonishes me,” Liepolt says. Thrower is not surprised, though. He said it “more than deserves a spell in the cult spotlight.”
There is a Facebook page for the film, so Liepolt’s 9th graders from the 1970s can finally track down and see the film they heard about 40 years ago. There’s also a website, and Arrow promises a number of promotions.
“It’s amazing fun that people are enjoying what I helped create so long ago,” Liepolt says. “What makes me sad, though, is that there are so few remaining who helped create the film.”
Halloween is here soon. What better way to get in the mood than a screening of Werner Liepolt’s great — and now rediscovered — ghoulish cult classic?