In Carnival Magic – never before available in any home entertainment format – swarthy, mystical magician Markov the Magnificent (Don Stewart, TV’s Guiding Light, Knots Landing, Dragnet) can read minds and levitate people and objects at will. Working a small-time carnival, he teams up with Alexander the Great (“Alex”), an über-intelligent chimp who has the ability to speak. Soon the duo is the belle of the fair, their act drawing huge crowds.
The carnival’s dastardly and envious wild animal trainer, enraged that his own act has been unseated as the circus’ top attraction, plots to rid himself of competition. “Chimp-napping” Alex, he hands him over to a shady scientist who is planning some very nasty medical experiments. A desperate Markov must quickly come up with a plan to save Alex, as well as his own livelihood.
There's no arguing that director Al Adamson didn't have what one would call an amazing film career, helming numerous low budget exploitation trash features throughout his 18 year career. But there is something to be said about a film director who, after supposedly deciding to re-enter the business after over ten years away in other ventures, winds up going missing, only to be found murdered, buried beneath his own bathroom by the man he hired to renovate it. That something, of course, would be "what the hell?!" This little tidbit may be more interesting than any of the cinema created in his years in the industry. What's almost as interesting is that a man with a reputation for making schlock horror features tried his hand at the children's film market in his next to last film.
Of course, it turned out pretty damn bizarre. 'Carnival Magic' (not the luxury boat) may very well be one of the weirdest films aimed at a kids audience ever made. It features plenty of adult material, including some serious slapping of the female sex in a scene in the third act, an animal attack that nearly kills a man, and an animal kidnapping that results in a near death situation for the creature in question. It also doesn't have enough "magic" to keep youngsters interested in the story. They're there for the monkey, and man, what a weird situation that is.
Markov the Magnificent (Don Stewart) is on the ropes, a carny nearly run out of his own business due to the jealousies from his competition. He has an ace card hidden up his magic sleeves, that he is, for some unknown reason, not too keen on using, but when word gets out that he is in possession of a talking monkey (Alex, played by Trudi the chimp), the man on his way out suddenly becomes the main attraction. Of course that won't sit well with those who wanted him gone in the first place, and Alex will be their new target.
The "magic" Markov performs (which, at times, can derail the film for up to ten minutes at a time) is not what makes this film bizarre. It's also not the carnival setting, which the film was made at when the production crew rented the Childress Circus as they filmed, leading to some pretty haggard looking extras and audiences. Not even the peculiar script and off performances are the sore thumbs here. Alex is, without a doubt, one of the most unintentionally hilarious screen creations of all time.
Talking animals, hey, they're cute, they're a staple of cartoons, both televised and made for the big screen. In live action adaptations, there's usually an effort to get a voice that people can believe coming out of the animal, and some big money spent on getting lip movements to match. You don't get that here. Instead, Alex sounds like a chain smoker chimp with a voice box, who says the most peculiar, ridiculous, awesome things ever. Without moving his lips. If his lines were compiled into a YouTube video, it might very well beat out the Bieber in terms of views.
That's what makes 'Carnival Magic' a real sight to behold. The story is fairly lame, the acting hardly worth noting, the costumes, my lord are they awful. Any time Alex is on screen, you can't help but stare in awe, waiting for the next line of dialogue sure to send you rolling on the floor in stitches. I mean, sure, there's something weird going on with Markov hiding Alex at first, and then saying "people are suspicious of things they don't understand, and that's why I'm hiding you..." like Alex were some kind of taboo personal pleasure item. I mean, you're a magician, and you have a talking chimp. Seriously, why would anyone not make that their instant go to, especially when the critter is well behaved, and extremely intelligent?!
'Carnival Magic' is a real treat. It's a complete deviation from the norm, an absolutely ridiculous piece of film that has to be seen to be believed. Yes, it's quite out there, and sometimes falls over itself trying to look legit. There are numerous long stretches that do nothing, and multiple side characters and plots that don't amount to squat in the film's narrative. That doesn't matter, though. What matters is there's a talking chimpanzee who steals cars and leads cops on chases (calling them "turkeys" out of the blue, in what may be the most hilarious line in the film), who is absolutely adorable, yet astoundingly creepy, due to how the talking effect is handled here. No other film will ever feature an animal talking like this for its gimmick. Ever. Apparently people are afraid of animals who have contracted cancer from smoking, and that's a damn shame, almost as much as the fact that the final image of the film, an advert for 'More Carnival Magic' never comes true.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Carnival Magic' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD25 disc. There are no annoying pre-menu trailers, just company credits. The menu features full motion video and an audio loop, as well as tabs themed like the boxes on the cover. This film was never released on DVD (at least, not until this release was), which makes it one of the very few titles with this claim to fame. Inside the package is a post card that replicates the cover, but the tabs of the case are likely to create heavy creases in it.
Ahh...my first review for an HD Cinema Classics title. The one where I'll see what kind of effort is put into the studio's releases, where I'll decide whether or not to pursue more of their titles or not. It didn't take long for me to decide that I wanted to buy quite a few more titles from this company (and the HD restoration demo extra had a big hand in this). That isn't to say 'Carnival Magic' looks great.
Far from it.
But, the keyword here is monkey but(t), its obvious that plenty of work went into this release, and I can only imagine how things would have looked if they hadn't gone to that effort. This 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.78:1 won't impress many people at first glance. It's not pretty. That said, anyone who knows the origin of this film, its history, and the complete lack of a prior DVD release will readily be forgiving.
Detail levels are not strong. Let's get that out of the way early. Often, the picture would be somewhat dull, a slight bit soft. There are some hefty bands, plenty of noise, some extreme black crush, and a few light bits of blocking in the picture. Whites are harsh, skin tones are splotchy, artifacts are sometimes blazingly obvious, there's some faint signs of smoothing, and, on top of all that, there was an entire sequence with alien-like purple skin tones.
Still, even saying all that, and giving this a "low" video score, I'm happy with this release. There is so little dirt and debris visible in the picture, that I don't even have the words to describe how pleased I am. Just take one look at that restoration video. That isn't trumped up for effect, like some of those Warner Bros. promo shots where the Blu-ray slides over and suddenly peach fuzz turns into a forest. 'Carnival Magic' is a forgotten film, but this studio didn't forget to do their best in cleaning it up, and with films of this era often exhibiting a general softness, it's tough to complain all that much.
'Carnival Magic' comes with two lossy flavors: 5.1 and 2.0, and while the matrixed track doesn't sound all that bad at first, after a while, it can overstay its welcome. I was surprised with the brass balls on display early, with plenty of beef and power behind the silly little film, but after a while, the range got less and less existent, and dialogue got more and more harsh. The score has some light feedback, there's random crackle and whir, and a few real hefty snaps (sorry, pop, but not all of the Rice Krispies guys are present this time) that were somewhat shocking. What's really bizarre is how the film starts to lose sync more and more. There are numerous scenes that absolutely had to be ADR, but even that was off by a good second or more. The bass elements are non-existent, while rears get real light ambiance, but mostly a slightly hollow sliver of the dialogue, like an unwanted echo.
I didn't expect HD Cinema Classics to be able to do any magic here, so I'm not at all upset or disappointed.
'Carnival Magic' is bizarre stuff, with a bizarre history (an understatement, that), and a more than bizarre star. It's quite possibly the weirdest kids movie ever. That said, Alex is beyond awesome, and I really wish there were more features with this acid trip of a character. HD Cinema Classics did a good restoration on this release, but the result is going to be troubled for all time. Really, it's hard to fault them for their efforts, and the restoration demo alone proves this release is worth its weight in talking monkeys. I enjoyed the hell out of this film, but I may not be in the majority. Still, this one is worth a look, just to say you saw it.