• Carnival Magic (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: April 21st, 2020.
    Director: Al Adamson
    Cast: Don Stewart, Jennifer Houlton, Howard Segal, Regina Carrol, Joe Cirillo, Mark Weston
    Year: 1983
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    Carnival Magic – Movie Review:

    Made in what would sadly turn out to be the twilight of his career, Al Adamson’s 1983 ‘children’s film’ Carnival Magic is just as stunningly bizarre as you’d expect from the man who gave us such irredeemable (yet somehow completely enjoyable) cinematic junk as Dracula vs. Frankenstein and The Naughty Stewardesses. Like pretty much all of Adamson’s other movies, Carnival Magic isn’t… good, at least not on a technical or artistic level but there’s enough unadulterated weirdness tucked away inside this film’s eighty-six-minutes to keep cult film fans more than happy.

    What’s it all about? A man named Stoney (played by the film’s screenwriter, Mark Weston) runs a travelling carnival that, these days at least, is dealing with a problem. See, the troupe’s magician, Markov the Magnificent (Don Stewart) has a beef with tiger trainer Kirk (Joe Cirillo) and it’s starting to have an effect on things. As such, Kirk coerces Stoney into sending Markov on his way but before he can get too far, low run worker Bud (Jennifer Houlton), who is in reality a woman named Ellen, comes up with an idea. She figures that Markov is just sad since losing his wife and unborn child a few years back, and that Alex, the talking chimpanzee who inexplicably lives in Markov’s trailer and likes to read porno magazines, is the only thing he truly cares about these days. If Stoney will bring Alex into the act, maybe Markov will be turned around and all will go back to what it once was.

    Stoney loves the idea – monkeys always draw a crowd – and before you know it the crew is putting together an act for ‘Alexander The Great,’ which quickly proves a great success. While this is going on, Bud falls for David (Howard Segal), the man in charge of the carnival’s marketing, while Markov’s lovely assistant Kate (Adamson’s wife and muse, Regina Carrol – the Karina to his Godard!) helps the cranky old magician get back in touch with his kinder, gentler side. Meanwhile, Alex decides to take a car out for a joy ride, much to the dismay of the woman sleeping in the back seat, and grumpy Kirk starts scheming how to get rid of his magical nemesis once and for all.

    This one is pretty out there. Markov’s character is all over the place in terms of what he can do and who he really is, and the quirky cast of supporting characters sort of shift in and out of the film fairly randomly. None of the acting is good, but some of it is fun. Don Stewart, who did plenty of TV work like Guiding Light and Knots Landing but who also somehow wound up in American Ninja, is pretty entertaining as one of the leads, and Joe Cirillo is equally amusing as his foe. Carroll is in the movie because she was romantically involved with Adamson, there’s no other reason for her to have been cast here as she’s pretty bad, but yet… somehow she works. The real star of the show, however, is Alex the monkey. The talking monkey. For reasons not really known to some of the people involved with the making of the film, he was dubbed in post-production and not dubbed very well (this is covered in Blood & Flesh) and it just adds another layer of surrealism to the film.

    Carnival Magic – DVD Review:

    The AVC encoded 1080p 1.85.1 fullframe transfer on this 50GB Blu-ray disc is taken from the ‘only existing pre-print elements’ and overall it looks pretty solid, with the feature taking up just under 23GBs of space. There’s a bit of print damage here and there but nothing too distracting even if it is a few steps beneath pristine. The color reproduction looks very nice. The picture is filmic throughout, showing no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. We get good black levels and skin tones and the picture is free of any noticeable compression problems.

    The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track doesn’t sound perfect but it does sound pretty good. Levels are balanced well enough and the dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to follow. There is a bit of flatness inherent in the source but overall, no major issues here to note. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary with the film’s producer, Elvin Feltner, which is pretty interesting stuff. He speaks about working with Adamson and how what went in addition to how they were able to secure an actual working carnival to shoot on. There’s plenty of talk here, too, about working with live animals, the monkey in particular, as well as insight into the cast and crew, the budget, the marketing of the film and more. Joe Rubin from Vinegar Syndrome moderates the track and he keeps Feltner engaged throughout.

    Up next is a featurette called A Boom To Science: A Critical Appreciation By Zack Carlson & Lars Nilsen, where over the span of twelve-minutes these two astute gentlemen discuss the film’s background, Al Adamson’s legacy, their thoughts on the picture and how it compares to other monkey-centric pieces of filmed entertainment. It’s quite amusing.

    Rounding out the extras for Carnival Magic specifically are twenty-minutes of silent outtakes, a TV spot and a theatrical trailer.

    But wait, there’s more! Severin has also included a feature length bonus film in the form of Adamson’s 1989 film Lost, which is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.33.1 with this feature given just under 18GBs of space. Audio chores are handled by a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono sound track in English and English subtitles are provided. The movie tells the story of Jeff (Don Stewart again) and Penny (Sandra Dee) Morrison have recently relocated to beautiful rural Utah to take up residence in the new home that, upon their arrival, they realize isn’t quite finished yet. They find ways to kill the time as they get things up to speed, but Penny’s daughter, Buddy (Sheila Newhouse), who isn’t quite yet sold on the arrival of her new step-father, quickly becomes irritated with the whole situation and decides to run away from home with the family dog. She quickly gets lost, only to come into contact with a burly but kindly mountain man named Mr. Newsome (played by wild-eyed Jack Elam of all people!) who decides to help her get back home.

    This one isn’t nearly as gonzo as Carnival Magic, it’s a much more conventional kids film and it plays things much safer than Adamson’s earlier effort. As such, it’s very likely going to be of less interest to most readers of this site, but it does have moments of absurdity, weird dialogue and strange situations to keep things mildly entertaining. The high point of the film is definitely Elam, who always looked crazy no matter how he was cast, and how is by far the most interesting actor in this one. Sheila Newhouse is pretty bad, even by the admittedly low standards of kids films of the era, but much of that is due more to her dialogue than her actual performance. At least the dog is cute.

    Additionally, the disc includes a trailer for Lost as well as twenty-three-minutes of silent rushes for a promo film of The Happy Hobo, an unproduced kids film that Adamson was working on that was never finished. There’s also a ‘search and find’ insert card stashed away inside the keepcase, just for kicks.

    Carnival Magic – The Final Word:

    Carnival Magic is pretty bonkers stuff, a seriously screwy work of ‘kid friendly’ entertainment presented through Adamon’s skewed vision of what all that should entail. Severin has done a fine job indeed bringing it to Blu-ray, with some great extras, a strong presentation, and a lesser but still bizarre bonus film. Fun for the whole family!

    Click on the images below for full-sized Carnival Magic screen caps!