Director: Al Adamson
Cultra/Virgil Films & Entertainment

It’s fitting that the company who released the utterly awful MONSTER A-GO GO should follow it up with what could very well be the worst movie (or at least the worst kiddie film) ever made. Yes, Al Adamson, the beloved cult director of DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR, NURSE SHERRI and numerous others dabbled in family entertainment with CARNIVAL MAGIC, a once believed-to-be lost effort. Luck for us, prints of the film were found, and the it recently filled the late Friday night airwaves on Turner Classic Movies (as part of its TCM Underground program) and now makes its digital debut as a blu-ray/DVD combo package.

A suffering circus/carnival run by Stoney (Mark Weston) is in desperate need of selling more tickets. One of the carnival’s attractions, magician Markov (longtime Soap star Don Stewart) is hiding an incredible secret: his chimpanzee companion, Alex, not only has numerous talents, but also has the power of speech. When Stoney’s tomboyish teenage daughter Ellen (Jennifer Houlton) learns of this, she convinces Markov to show Alex’s unique gift to her dad, prompting him to incorporate it into a headline attraction. Alex the talking chimp soon becomes an attendance-breaking smash, but a jealous lion tamer, furious that his act is now second fiddle, kidnaps the super intelligent simian, selling him out to a scientist (Charles Reynolds) who believes its some kind of missing link and wants to conduct experiments on the poor creature.

Legendary TV talk show host Joe Franklin is quoted as saying at the time that CARNIVAL MAGIC was “The finest family film since E.T.” Either Joe didn’t get out to the movies all that much, or perhaps he was just giving the producer (a friend of his) a charity nod because the well-intentioned misfire is just plain awful, even if you have a high tolerance for schlock. Shot in Gaffney, South Carolina using dozens of real-life (and most likely bewildered) carnival goers as extras, the film’s premise of a chimp with the power of speech (it mumbles with a gruff cigarette voice, actually done by a female) is so poorly executed, when he’s incorporated in the magic act (Markov doing such tired routines as reading minds, bending steel bars, levitating, etc) he’s not even given a chance to shine, but rather remain on the sidelines and assist with a few parlor tricks.

Among the badly paced circus tent magic act scenes and endless carnival crowd shots, there’s two dull budding romances (too much characterization really backfires here) and mind-numbing bits where the chimp drives off in a car with a blonde bombshell in the backseat and later unlocks his binding chains to defend himself from a clinic room full of heavies. What’s makes things even weirder is that it never feels like the G-Rated family fare it purports to be, including such adult themes as alcoholic domestic abuse. It’s nice to see the late director’s wife Regina Carrol (here billed as “Gina Carrol”) as Markov’s assistant, a bit older than we’re used to seeing her, but still showing off her dynamite curves in various low-cut outfits and skin-tight leotards. Thankfully, the end credits’ promise of “More Carnival Magic Next Year” never came to be.

The cinematic turd reportedly was given a theatrical distribution in 1983, but this but it appears to have been a limited release, only playing in a few markets. For its DVD/blu-ray release (an Al Adamson film arrives on blu-ray, and it had to be this one), CARNIVAL MAGIC has been restored in High Definition from 35mm elements and looks quite sharp and nicely detailed in the 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. One complaint with the transfer (as evidenced in the restoration comparison demo, included here as bonus) is that the fleshtones look a little washed-out, where they could have been much more vibrant. Mono English audio is provided in both 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, and optional Spanish subtitles are included.

Extras include a video interview with producer Elvin Feltner, discussing the film in a restaurant, and later in a storage facility unit where film and other movie memorabilia is stored. Feltner is back for a full audio commentary moderated by Joe Rubin, where he discusses the filming of CARNIVAL MAGIC, his association with such exploitation greats as Earl Owensby and Albert Zugsmith, and the fact that he bought out several known film libraries. Feltner doesn’t say much about Adamson (other than a few kind words) and seems confused about when the film was shot (the clapboards on the outtakes show July of 1980) and claims that it had a video release which doesn’t seem to exist. A number of outtakes and bloopers (without sound), the film’s trailer and TV spot, a slideshow still gallery and insert postcard round out the extras. (George R. Reis)