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Sawdust in the Blood used to be a Carny compliment...not a description of a crime scene. There are a thousand sideshows playing thousands of small towns in 1936 when the Knuckles Brothers Show rolls into yet another town, ready to delight and dazzle the town folk with amazing acts and puzzling oddities. As they set up their tents they could not know that within days several of them would be dead, ripped savagely apart by a seemingly inhuman force, their souls stolen from their limp and bloody bodies. Step up, step up, ladies and gentlemen, the show is about to begin... Written by
Set during the Great Depression, Brian Corder's low-budget indie film Carnies focuses on a hard-up touring carnival and its diverse (and decidedly quirky) members. From gentle strong man Virgil Handso (Chris Staviski) and his odd best friend Ratty (Doug Jones) the Ratcatcher, whose one love in his life are his snakes (for whom he catches the rats, of course!), to sword swallower William (David Markham) and the tough-as-nails Helen (Denise Gossett), who runs the whole shebang, the carnies are a strange and sometimes difficult bunch to deal with. Into a world peopled by pickled punks and chicken ladies comes Detective Conrad Ellison (Reggie Bannister), initially a cop on the take who gets his cut when he asks for it.
But something stranger and infinitely more dangerous stalks the carnival a killer is on the loose. Bodies begin showing up at an alarming rate and in gruesome fashion, and the detective soon has other things than his 'take' to think about as the gore begins to flow. But it soon becomes clear that something else is at large something not of this world
Sounds like a bit of bloody fun with a twist, doesn't it? And in a nutshell, that's what you should get, no more, no less.
The script is okay (if a little wordy in places, dialogue making up for action), and performances range from 'meh' to very good, but ultimately despite the best of intentions the film suffers desperately for lack of cash and it shows. Sound and editing need a lot more work, and it's a bit threadbare to look at in places, but if you can overlook all of this you will get the sense of a really neat story with a nice twist at the end.
Look out for fun turns from genre legends Reggie Bannister and Doug Jones (the latter's jittery, energised performance giving Ratty a big, brave heart inside that downtrodden and insecure exterior), and a sweet performance from newcomer Chris Staviski as Virgil the strongman. His inexperience shows in places, but he more than makes up for it with a genuinely touching performance he knows Virgil inside-out, and gives him a strength of character behind that theatrical waxed moustache that shows great promise.
If you want a popcorn video that doesn't take a lot of effort to watch and has a neat twist to it amid the gory fun, then Carnies will do just fine.
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