In case you want to know more: I’ve seen several films by B-movie director Al Adamson, but 1982’s “Carnival Magic” is quite a departure from his usual horror and action efforts like “Dracula vs. Frankenstein” and “Satan’s Sadists.” For one thing, it’s a family film. For another, its cast is comprised of the aforementioned talking chimp and several soap stars. And for yet another, it’s absolutely out of its mind.
You know you’re in for a treat when the opening credits give big, blocky shout-outs not only to “TRUDY, THE CHIMP,” but “MISSY O’SHEA (THE GIRL IN THE CAR).” The protagonist — at least the one who doesn’t throw feces — is Markov the Magnificent (Don Stewart), a magician toiling in a two-bit traveling carnival. It’s a gig far beneath his powers — literally, as he can talk to the animals via telepathy — but he’s in danger of being fired for failing to draw crowds.
Only out of necessity does Markov reveal Alex, the speech-capable monkey (with a pre-laryngectomy smoker’s voice) he’s been hiding in his trailer all along. Naturally, their show is an instant hit with the uneducated audiences, and all’s well until a scientist wants to “experiment” on Alex, and the jealous tiger tamer is all too eager to help. But not before Alex steals a car and leads the local police on a chase.
It sounds like a riotous, Saturday-matinee take on those movies Clint Eastwood made with Clyde the orangutan, but “Carnival Magic” exudes a sinister vibe. Markov is one morose MFer who speaks in Zen-like platitudes and rarely cracks a smile; demonstrations of his noggin tricks with carnivalgoers are shot in such a menacing manner that you half expect his volunteers’ heads to explode à la “Scanners.”
In other words, I loved it! Adamson’s wife and frequent collaborator, Regina Carrol, practically bursts out of her outfits and, therefore, the film’s G rating. I don’t recall seeing another kiddie film with such overt big-breast jokes, either. Just when you think the movie could use a midget and some Shriners in go-karts, guess what shows up?
Shot in the poverty-stricken Carolinas country, “Carnival Magic” is one of those regional, low-budget affairs that, like the carnival itself, would set up shop for a week in one town before moving on to the next. It played 25 theaters over the course of a year, then was presumably lost until 2009. Cultra deserves inclusion in your estate planning not only for releasing the thing, but doing so in a combo pack that includes a Blu-ray and DVD, plus several bonus features, such as a full commentary and a sit-down diner chat with producer Elvin Feltner.
The movie ends with the onscreen promise, “SO LONG FOR NOW — SEE YOU NEXT YEAR IN MORE CARNIVAL MAGIC,” but alas, it was not to be. Make do with this, and to have your mind really blown, watch it back-to-back with “Birdemic” for an animal kingdom double feature as nature never intended. —Rod Lott