Wednesday, February 2, 2011

CARNIVAL MAGIC (Blu-ray & DVD)

Al Adamson was sort of the Ed Wood of the Sixties/early Seventies, cranking out offbeat and subjectively awful drive-in fare like SATAN'S SADISTS, FRANKENSTEIN VS. DRACULA, and BLAZING STEWARDESSES. Well, it turns out that Al (who was murdered in 1995) also dabbled in family fare with the mind-numbingly bizarre CARNIVAL MAGIC (1981), which has just been released on high-definition Blu-Ray & DVD by Cultra/Synergy Entertainment.

A small-time carnival is having a difficult time luring in enough customers to make a profit until the owner's daughter Ellen (Jennifer Houlton) discovers that the show's magician, Markov (Don Stewart, AMERICAN NINJA) possesses a pet chimpanzee that can talk. The reluctant Markov is convinced to make his loquacious ape Alexander the carnival's headliner, and the crowds - and profits - pour in. Unfortunately, the show's lion tamer, jealous of Markov and Alexander's success, kidnaps the chimp and sells him to an evil scientist who wants to dissect the beastie and see what makes him tick.

As with many of Adamson's films, CARNIVAL MAGIC is a cinematic trainwreck, filmed on the cheap on location (in this case, South Carolina) with a professional, if inexpensive, cast (mostly soap opera veterans), with bland cinematography, poor production values, and a sluggish pace. Much of the running time is made up of lingering shots of the real-life carnival rides and attractions, and the crowds enjoying them. The script is banal and boring, and never funny. The chimpanzee, which "speaks" in an almost unintelligible overdubbed mumble, isn't particularly charismatic, either. Fans of Adamson's other films should note that the director's then-wife, Regina Carrol (BLACK SAMURAI, BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR) appears as Markov's mature-but-shapely assistant.

CARNIVAL MAGIC appears to have a had a very limited theatrical run in small, regional markets during the early 80s before apparently disappearing off the face of the earth, never receiving even a VHS home video release. In fact, the film was presumed lost for many years. But a good quality 35mm print was discovered recently, and restored/remastered in HD. The film made its high-def debut on Turner Classic Movies' "TCM Underground" last year before making its way to disc.

The Cultra 2-disc, Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is a surprisingly decent package for such an otherwise unimpressive feature. The 1080p HD, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is remarkably nice, with good detail, virtually no dirt, debris or damage, and only slightly-faded colors. The mono soundtrack is presented in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, both of which are adequate. Bonus features include an audio commentary by producer Elvin Feltner and moderator Joe Rubin. Feltner also appears in an on-camera interview conducted in a noisy restaurant. There are also a handful of silent outtakes, a still gallery, the original theatrical trailer, and a postcard insert.

It's difficult to recommend CARNIVAL MAGIC to anyone but die-hard bad film aficionados, Al Adamson completists, and/or collectors of cinematic oddities. If you fall under any of those headings, then Cultra's Blu-Ray/DVD edition is a very solid presentation of a very rare flick and worth checking out.

BUY: Carnival Magic [Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack]