Carnival Magic (1981)

Al Adamson should have never made a children’s film. This is the man who made Psycho a Go-Go, two different softcore movies with flying hostesses (The Naughty Stewardesses and Blazing Stewardesses), the staggering Dracula vs. Frankenstein and a Filipino horror movie that was dubbed, tinted in neon hues and released as Horror of the Blood Monsters. And oh, by the way, his film Satan’s Sadists was shot Spahn Ranch and he was nything but shy about using that fact to promote the film.

But yeah. So then he decided to make a movie for the kids, it failed, he went into real estate and then ended up murdered by a contractor and buried in the cement under a new hot tub.

So are you ready for Carnival Magic? No. I really don’t think you are.

According to an article in the Austin Chronicle, even the way that film was discovered is unsettling. Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson said, “I didn’t know about the movie until I already owned it. It was an entire movie on one giant reel, and written on the side of it, in Sharpie, it said Carnival Fucking Magic. It completely decimated everyone. We couldn’t understand what the movie was, because although it’s made under the guise of a children’s film, it features domestic abuse, vivisection, and, even more uncomfortably, it just has this pervasive air of stale, alcoholic uncles. It’s the most quietly inappropriate kids’ movie ever made. You can tell it was made by people who have never spent any time around children.”

At face value, the movie is all about Markov the Magnificent (Don Stewart, who was on the soap opera Guding Light for sixteen years), a magician and mindreader whose career has hit the skids. However, when he teams up with a talking chimp — after a while, no one is really all that amazed that monkeys can speak — named Alexander the Great, their dirt poor Stoney Martin Carnival finally has a chance to be a success. Then again, Kirk the alcoholic lion tamer (Joe Cirillo, who played cops in everything from Maniac Cop 2 to SplashGhostbusters and Death Wish 3) and the doctor who wants to examine Alexander’s brain may screw it all up.

Of course, Al’s wife Regina Carrol shows up. But what you don’t expect is that the monkey loves women’s bras and stealing cars. You might wonder what child would want to see this or how they’d react being dropped off at the theater in 1981 by their parents and having to confront this film. I’m in my forties and barely survived it with my insanity intact (to be fair, I’ve gone back more than a few times to try and watch it again).

See, there’s a war brewing between Markov and Kirk. Our hero doesn’t like telling many people, but he was raised by Buddhist monks who taught him hypnosis, levitation and how to talk to animals. The main problem is, the more he talks to Kirk’s animals, the less they take our villain as their master.

Speaking of talking, that’s pretty much all this movie does. Everyone talks, about losing their wives, potentially losing their daughters, leaving behind their old lives and worries of their future. I’m not really sure what children want to see the inner workings and turmoil of a ratty circus. After all, we’ve all come to realize just how sinister the big top is and this movie will do nothing to dissuade you from that notion.

I really have no idea who this film is really for. But yet, that’s part of the charm. Every year, there are so many movies made for kids that just fade away. Somehow, this oddity won’t go away, even if the print for it stayed hidden for decades. Beyond all rational reasoning, Carnival Magic is available to watch on Netflix — albeit with riffing from Mystery Science Theater 3000 — and ready to mess with anyone’s brain that stumble across it.

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