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Carnival Magic (1981)

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A magician in a carnival--who actually can read minds and levitate people and objects--works with a superintelligent chimp named Alex, who can also talk. The magician and the chimp soon ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Don Stewart ...
Jennifer Houlton ...
Howard Segal ...
Regina Carrol ...
Joe Cirillo ...
Mark Weston ...
Charles Reynolds ...
Dr. Poole
Diane Kettering ...
Missy Crutchfield ...
Girl in Car (as Missy O'Shea)
Ron De Marco ...
Dr. Poole's Assistant (as Ron DeMarco)
Farzene Habib ...
Nurse Ranya
Earl Vedder ...
Gus / Clarence
Mike Allen ...
Sgt. Willis ...
Gordon Peterson Jr. ...


A magician in a carnival--who actually can read minds and levitate people and objects--works with a superintelligent chimp named Alex, who can also talk. The magician and the chimp soon become the stars of the carnival, drawing in big crowds. However, the wild-animal trainer, who has been displaced by the team as the carnival's top act, decides to kidnap Alex and sell him to a medical laboratory for experimentation, thereby getting rid of his competition. Written by

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Day of the Escape From Plan 9's Outer Space Carnival of The Apes
24 November 2002 | by (Seattle) – See all my reviews

The wonderful thing about living in Seattle is being able to choose among the many revival theaters that we film snobs have access to. On any given weekend we can choose between horror epics like Evil Dead, Psycho and Carrie; John Hughes' teen-angst epics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink; or just plain obscure epics like Al Adamson's Carnival Magic.

Now, Carnival Magic comes nowhere close to resembling an epic in the Cecil B. DeMille vein, but does remind me of a particularly painful epic experience that I had at the dentist's office when I was around ten. The dentist pried, drilled, scraped and pulled for what seemed to have been ten hours and after the enamel and bone dust settled, I was a couple of pounds lighter and a much stronger human animal. If you are "fortunate" enough to witness Carnival Magic, I am willing to wager that your experience will approximate my dental adventure.

Carnival Magic is a children's film (I think) that "stars" Don Stewart as Markov the Magician (imagine a young Harvey Keitel). Markov is a magician who has the genuine ability to read minds, levitate and bend steel bars. When not performing one miraculous feat after the other, Markov meditates and hangs out with his English-speaking chimpanzee companion, Alex (yes, you read that right). On one ominous day, the carnival owner's daughter begs Markov to put Alex into his act to save her father's fledgling fair. Markov begrudgingly agrees. At first, ticket sales soar and Markov and Alex are carny heroes. Unfortunately, the jealous alcoholic tiger-tamer, who was once the main attraction, becomes tired of playing second fiddle to the damn dirty ape and decides to kidnap Alex and sell him to a vivisectionist.

As I'm sure you have surmised, Carnival Magic is sort of a simian version of Day of The Dolphin but, regrettably, Al Adamson is no Mike Nichols and Don Stewart is sure as Hell no George C. Scott.

This film contains endless scenes of North Carolinians (nothing against people from North Carolina, it's just where it was filmed) riding carnival rides, playing games and eternally sitting watching Markov perform his magic. Occasionally, the film kicks out of "She Freak" gear and grinds into never-ending inane dialogs between Markov and the other fair folk. In one infinite scene we discover how a former beauty queen is transformed, without supernatural assistance, from Miss Arkansas to Markov's assistant through a series of hard-luck choices she has made. Watching paint dry can be more fun.

I won't give away the big surprise ending, but if you make it that far you deserve the big payoff - bring plenty of Kleenex.

Critics and so-called film fans endlessly rail on about Edward D. Wood, Jr.s' Plan 9 From Outer Space, heralded as the "worst film ever made", (obviously, these people have never seen "Eight Heads in a Duffle Bag"), but you never hear anyone giving speeches about Carnival Magic. Well, that's just plain wrong. Carnival Magic is a cinematic endurance test of the highest caliber. It takes a magnanimous spirit to sit through an entire screening of Carnival Magic but once you do, you'll be altered forever.

Sitting through this film rather reminded me of my younger-self sitting in that unholy dentist chair. Sure, I had to white-knuckle it through the entire process, but it has made me a stalwartly cinema survivor. If I can sit through that, I can take anything they throw at me. If you consider yourself a true cinemaphile, (you must if you've read this far), you owe it to yourself to see Carnival Magic. Take it from me, you'll be a stronger viewer for it.

25 of 30 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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