Carnival Magic (1981) – By Duane L. Martin

Al Adamson has made a lot of b-movies in his career. Films like Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Brain of Blood and Blood of Ghastly Horror. Carnival Magic however is a far different animal than many of the other films he’s made throughout his long and prolific career. It’s different, mainly in the sense that it’s actually pretty family friendly. Unfortunately, it’s also considered by many to be an really bad film, a view which I don’t personally share as I happened to enjoy it quite a bit. But what’s it about? Well…

Stoney’s (Mark Weston) carnival isn’t doing so well. In fact, business is downright terrible. His main act is an animal trainer named Kirk (Joe Cirillo) who works with tigers, but doesn’t treat them well. He also doesn’t take kindly to Markov (Don Stewart), a newer act in the show, hanging around his animals, because he "talks" to them and then they act weird and won’t obey. Needless to say, there’s a lot of tension between the two. So much so, that he demands that Stoney get rid of him, or he’s leaving the carnival. Stoney doesn’t want to do it, but he really doesn’t have a lot of choice, because he can’t lose his best act, so he tells Markov that he has to go. Markov reluctantly agrees to leave in the morning, but that evening, Stoney’s daughter Ellen discovers Markov’s secret. He’s got a chimp that he’s trained to do a huge number of things, and it even talks! After she convinces him to reveal his secret to Stoney and to incorporate the chimp, Alex, into his act, Stoney can’t believe what he sees and suddenly Markov is the new star of the show. Now Kirk is pissed, and he wants revenge.

Throw in a side story about Stoney’s relationship with his daughter, her budding relationship with the carnival’s PR guy, a scientist who wants to disect Alex to learn about this scientifically interesting ape, Markov’s mysterious life and powers and a whole lot more, and you have Carnival Magic.

Now, I have to say I can understand why so many people rate this movie so poorly. It’s a somewhat cheap looking film from the early 80’s. However, the comments I’ve read about it all sound like they were written by snooty film people who can’t appreciate the film for what it is and just have fun with it, and make no mistake, this is a fun film. Cheesy? Yes. Kinda lame? Yes, but despite that, it’s still a fun movie.

One of the things that makes this film fun is the setting. I mean really, who doesn’t like carnivals? Hell, when the movie was over, I wanted to run away to be a carny myself! Another thing that’s way fun with this film are the powers they gave Markov. He can hypnotize people and do various feats of mind reading and magic. Then there’s the chimp, Alex. Now when I say he can talk, I don’t mean talk in a Disney type of way where they get some idiot like Martin Lawrence to give him some hip, street-wise type of voice and dialog, but rather he talks like a chimp would talk. A limited dialog done in a grunty, kind of hard to understand voice. It was perfect, and exactly what it should have been.

Alex incorporated into the film nicely, but he wasn’t really the focus of the story, which was also cool. Markov had lost his pregnant wife in an accident. That’s when he hooked up with Alex and basically ran away from his old life and kind of secluded himself. Much of the story revolves around his new friends in the carnival bringing him out of his shell and making him realize that it’s ok to love and to build relationships with people again. Not only does it change his life, but his powers and his wise advice to others change their lives as well.

From a production standpoint, it’s easy to look at this film and say, "Aw man, that’s so cheap looking." Truth be told, it is cheap looking, but there’s really nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, it’s part of the film’s charm.

You hear about films being restored, but you watch them and you don’t really think about the level of restoration that goes on sometimes. Well, with this film, you can see exactly what kind of a restoration they had to do, as one of the special features is a comparison between the old footage and the restored footage, so you can see the actual level of restoration that had to be done. Let me just say, what they did with this film is nothing short of amazing! It looks absolutely clean and wonderful, but when you look at the original footage before the restoration, you won’t believe how it could have ever possibly ended up looking so awesome. They really did an incredible job with the restoration process.

This more or less lost gem has been released from Cultra in a DVD+Blu-Ray combo pack, and in my opinion, it’s a really enjoyable film that’s definitely worth adding to your collection, especially if you’re a fan of late 70’s / early 80’s cheesy films. Cultra’s been releasing some great stuff, and this release is certainly no exception.

This film is available from Amazon and all the usual outlets.