Virgil Films // 1982 // 100 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 20th, 2011
One of the most bizarre children's films ever made!
"Uhhhh...yeah, uh huh, uh huh."
Markov the Magnificent (Don Stewart, Guiding Light) is a magician working for a traveling carnival. He's a nice guy, but the boozy tiger tamer Kirk Wylder (Joe Cirillo, Ghostbusters) is uncomfortable with the way Markov seems to be able to communicate with his animals. Eager to make Kirk happy, carnival boss Stoney Martin (Mark Weston, Shamus) agrees to fire Markov. In an attempt to keep his job, Markov reveals a hidden treasure: a talking monkey named Alex (Trudi the Chimp). Together, Markov and Alex quickly become the carnival's most popular attraction. Alas, their fame may be short-lived: Kirk is conspiring with the villainous Dr. Poole (Charles Reynolds) in the hopes of bringing the noble magician and his talking monkey down.
On the Carnival Magic Blu-ray case, there is a quote from an obscure television critic praising the movie: "The best family film since E.T.!" How did such a quote come to exist? There are a few different theories:
The critic was bribed: These things happen from time to time, unfortunately. Perhaps someone slipped this person a few bucks under the table? Afterwards, Every Which Way But Loose was Clint Eastwood's best film, Jaws 2 was even better than the original, and Carnival Magic was the best family film since E.T..
Carnival Magic was the first family film that came out after E.T.: Both movies were released in 1982, after all. Maybe the critic saw E.T. on Friday and saw Carnival Magic on Saturday?
The critic is from Bizzaro-world: "Carnival Magic is best movie! It not make me want to hit my head with hammer!"
The critic was very, very, very high: Suddenly, the universal beauty hidden beneath this dreck revealed itself.
Whatever the case, there's no way this person could have been entirely honest, serious, and unimpaired, because Carnival Magic is one of the most stupendously terrible family films ever made. The case also informs us that the film was, "long thought lost." Oh, that it had remained so. The film has a plot just nutty enough to potentially turn the movie into campy fun, but it plods along at such a coma-inducing pace that it kills any sense of unintended fun.
As talking animals go, Alex is one of the most improbable. For whatever reason, the filmmakers restrict themselves to only permitting Alex to emit words that actually look like they could be coming out of his mouth. In a film so absurd in every other way, why adhere to this principle? It makes what could have been the film's most intriguing character into a rather exasperating one. Alex only emits grunts and occasionally churns out very simple phrases: "Yes yes...uh...okay. No. Yes. Come here. Rrrr rrr uh yes." Even more bothersome is the fact that Alex's voice resembles nothing so much as a hobo in heat. When he steals one girl's bra (yes, this happens) and starts chuckling to himself, the result is extraordinarily creepy. The other characters in the film don't seem to think so, responding with lines like, "Alex, you silly monkey. What're you doing?"
Then there's the film's kooky science & medicine subplot. Dr. Poole (played by an often badly-dubbed Charles Reynolds in what is possibly the movie's worst performance) wants to study Alex, thinking that he could be the elusive "missing link" in evolution (not the one any real scientists were looking for, but whatever works). The best way to "study" Alex is to cut him into pieces, leading us into a scene in which Dr. Poole speechifies on the noble profession of capturing animals and slicing them up. After Alex is inevitably captured and brought to the doctor's personal surgery unit (located inside his home, handily enough), an equally inevitable rescue mission is staged.
Here's where it gets odd: Dr. Poole is assisted by several other medical professionals, all of whom seem onboard with what Dr. Poole is doing. However, when the good guys arrive, the aforementioned medical professionals aid in the rescue while Dr. Poole is getting punched in the face. Huh? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I guess. And then...
There's the inexplicable medical miracle that takes place. Incredibly depressed at the thought of being taken from the carnival, Alex decides to take his own life (he seems unaware of the fact that he is about to be sliced up). The chimp grabs a nearby bottle of poison and consumes the whole thing. The doctors (who are now good guys, for some reason) discover this fact and desperately try to save Alex, but to no avail. The monkey flatlines, causing Markov to run into the room sobbing. It's made very clear that Alex is very dead, and also made clear that Markov is absolutely unable to do anything about it. Then, after a couple of minutes, Alex comes back to life. "Alex, you're back!" Markov exclaims. There is no explanation given for this. It just happens. Then there is a parade.
Spectacularly awful as these events are (I haven't even mentioned the monkey car chase), most of the film's running time is dominated by long, plodding scenes that go absolutely nowhere. We get two terribly underwhelming magic shows (most of the tricks could easily be performed by a novice after a half-hour with a "how to" pamphlet), both of which are presented in real time and never seem to end. We get a romantic subplot between a young guy and a young girl who work with the carnival, a romance between Markov and his bikini-clad assistant that never really goes anywhere, some alcohol-induced rants from the tiger guy and lots of random carnival footage.
Why the film merits a hi-def release is a question I am incapable of answering, but I can tell you that the 1080p/1.78:1 transfer looks pretty terrible. In all honesty, I've seen many, many DVD releases that look better than this film does on Blu-ray. The image is flat and soft, there's some color bleeding, lots of scratches and flecks are on-hand and everything looks washed-out. There are fleeting moments of respectable detail, but this is quite possibly the worst-looking Blu-ray release I've seen thus far. Still, I realize much of this is due to the source material. The audio is a bit better, if still pretty underwhelming. The mix is very front-heavy and the score sounds a good deal older than it actually is, but dialogue is mostly clear enough and there aren't any huge problems. The supplemental package is actually more interesting than the film, including a commentary with producer Elvin Feltner, an additional interview with Feltner, some silent outtakes, a trailer, a tv spot, a stills gallery and a restoration comparison (it used to look super-crappy, now it just looks crappy). You also get a DVD copy of the film, so you can take this beloved gem with you on the go.
It's the best family film since E.T.!
While fans of director Al Adamson may find Carnival Magic a fun addition to the cult filmmaker's gallery of cheese, all others are warned to avoid this disaster at all costs.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Virgil Films
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Restoration Comparison
* DVD Copy