Sunday, 19 May 2013

Step Right Up for 5 Carnival Horror Films

**Please note that there may be spoilers throughout the blog**

The carnival/midway has always had a dark and magical allure to me.  I remember going during the day as a child and feeling the thrill of the rides and excitement of the games.  And as I got older, I would stay later in the evening and would see another side of the carnival, that had it's own kind of excitement.  There was an element of danger to the late night carnival, that is hard to describe but it had it's own motley cast of characters and it's own kind of strange excitement.  Like drunk people being bought off with huge teddy bears to stop them from arguing with the barkers because they felt like they'd been cheated, or stepping into rides with fresh vomit on the side of the stairs, letting you know that this ride isn't for the weak of heart or stomach, or some shady dealings that happen behind the tents that you can almost hear between sounds of the almost never ending calliope.  These moments were just as fascinating to me and brought just as many thrills as any ride on the Gravitron or the Zipper.  

So Step Right Up for 5 Carnival Horror Films

5. Night Tide (1961) - During on an onshore leave from the Marines, Johnny Drake visits a seaside carnival.  He ends up in Jazz club and while he's bopping, he notices a pretty girl sitting alone.  He heads over and asks to join her but only a few minutes after sitting with her; a strange woman approaches and speaks to the girl in a foreign language, then leaves.  This freaks the girl out and she leaves the club and so, Johnny follows her.  While he walks(stalks) the girl home, Johnny finds out her name is Mora and she works in the carnival as a Mermaid with her friend/foster father, Captain Murdoch.  When they get to her apartment, Mora dodges Johnny's many attempts to invite himself up to her apartment and finally gives in with a kiss good night.
  The next day, Johnny shows up at Mora's apartment which happens to be above a Merry Go Round and before he goes up to see Mora, Johnny talks to the owner of the merry go round and his daughter, who really, really, really likes coffee.  He learns that Mora's last two boyfriend's were murdered and even though they just met are concerned for Johnny.  He blows them off and heads up to see Mora and when he arrives she offers him breakfast on the balcony.  Over breakfast, he learns that Mora really likes the sea and everything in the sea and thinks that she may actually be a mermaid or at least a descendent of a sirens from Greek mythology.  This would be a red flag but Johnny ignores it, until he talks to Captain Murdoch later that day and he explains to why he thinks she's a mermaid too.  Is Johnny so lonely that he will risk his life to date someone who thinks she's a mermaid? Oh the Terror!
  This is weird thriller that kind of drags after a bit.  I liked the premise of the story but I wish it was executed it better.  Dennis Hopper (Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet) is okay and he just drifts along the film not really doing anything.  There isn't any blood shed or terrifying and it takes a long for things to happen.  The ending has a interesting twist but is still confusing at the same time but who knows if you'll make it that far.  If you can, maybe throw this one back in the sea.

4. Carnival of Souls (1962) - Mary and her girl friends are challenged to a car race by some guys and her friend who's driving accepts the challenge!  They race through the one horse town, through the bush and when they come to the narrow bridge, Mary and her friends careen off the side of the bridge and crash into the water.  The police and the whole town come to save them but it doesn't look like there are any survivors and just when they were going to give up and leave the car and girls in the river, who pulls herself out of the water, Mary!
  Totally freaked out about the crash, Mary gets an organ gig at a church in another town.  On her way to her new town, she passes by an abandoned pavilion and begins seeing images of a creepy man.  She move into her new place and starts her new job, but the creepy man from the pavilion keeps stalking her in her dreams and in real life!  Can Mary escape this creepy man, so she can play her organ in piece?
  I appreciate this for what director Herc Harvey did as an independent filmmaker but I'm not that crazy about the film.  I do like the ending, I think that was pretty cool but it just took so long to get there that it was painful.  Most of the time, nothing is happening and most of the film have nothing to do with a carnival.  Maybe I don't get it and I need to read more about it to really enjoy this but as a film fan I shouldn't have to research it first to enjoy it.  Again, I can appreciate it what Mr. Harvey has done but this just isn't for me. 

3. Carnival of Blood (1970) -A couple at the carnival are arguing and playing the wildly popular Balloon Pop game.  They guy running it gets fed up with them fighting and gives them a bear and sends them off to the spook house ride.  When they come out the other side, the woman has been decapitated!  Luckily, newly appointed D.A assistant, Dan is on the case and drags his fiancee, Laura to the carnival to investigate, even though she is tries desperately tries to explain to Dan that she's scared of being murdered and it's actually the police's job to investigate the crime and his job to prosecute.
  Anyhoo, they head down to the carnival and who's working the insanely popular Balloon Pop game but their friend and neighbour Dan, the creepy middle aged bachelor who lives upstairs and enjoys collecting Teddy bears which he places all over his apartment, and his friend Gimpy, a deformed man with a terrible skin condition, that likes to shout at customers for no reason except that he's angry.  Dan asks some useless questions and then continues his hunt for the killer.  Later another that night another couple is arguing at the incredible Balloon Pop game and shooed away with a free bear.  She also turns up murdered, this time stabbed under the dock.  Unfortunately, she is discovered by Laura and tells Dan that she's going home.  Will Dan be able to find the killer and stop the gruesome murders at the carnival or will he lose everything trying?
  Although at times confusing, this was an okay watch.  Director Leonard Kirtman (Curse of the Headless Horseman, Young Nurses in Love) seemed confused at times on what kind of film he was making.  It starts as a low budget horror and then there are some soft core porn elements that get snuck in, so I'm not surprised that shortly after a few attempts at horror, he followed his passion with pornography. Hoo Ray!  Anyway, the acting is pretty bad but I was surprised to see Burt Young (Rocky, Back to School) make this film debut as Gimpy, but I can see how this led to many creepy best friend roles for him in his career.  I was pleasantly surprised at how violent the murders in this film were and even though there wasn't a budget from what I could tell, the special effects team did a nice job.  People are pulling out intestines everywhere and my new favourite weapon, a rock, got some excellent screen time.  Good old rock.  This isn't a fantastic film by any stretch of the imagination but it's a fun little time waster if you have the patience.  

2. The Funhouse (1981) - After her brother, Joey scares her in the shower, Amy is all ready for her hot date with local gas attendant, Buzz.  Her parents ask her not to go to the carnival because they heard that two girls went missing in the last town the carnival was at and Amy tells her dad that they are going to a movie, so not to worry.  Suddenly, they hear the honking of a horn, so I guess Buzz is here for the his date and Amy skips off to her Prince Charming.
  Amy asks Buzz if the can go to the movies instead but Buzz is adamant that they go to the carnival and reminds her that he still has to pick up her friends.  Great first date.  Buzz picks up Richie and Liz, they get high and head to the carnival.
  At the carnival, Buzz and Richie think it would be cool to stay the night in the Funhouse and convince the girls to stay with them.  So during the last ride of the Funhouse, the four of them sneak of the ride and into the shadows to hide while everything gets closed up.  The park closes down and it's time to make out. Bon chica won won
  During their make out session, the gang can hear voices from below them and peaking through the cracks in the floorboards, they can see a masked carny trying to buy sex from the old fortune teller woman.   Eventually, they come to a price and the masked carny starts getting his groove on but while she's giving him a tug, he pops and she washes her hands because she is done.  The masked carny is furious and attacks the fortune teller for not having sex with him!  He ends up choking her to death with his two hairy palms.
  Now, Amy and the gang are scared and want to go home but for some reason don't know how to leave.  They hear another voice and peak down again to see that one of the carnival barker is giving the carny shit for killing the fortune teller.  Unfortunately, Richie's light falls out of his pocket and down into the room.  The barker sees the lighter and asks the gang to come downstairs.  What is Amy and her friends going to do?  Can they escape the Funhouse or are they doomed to carny torture?
  I'm wasn't that crazy about this film and I was hoping after seeing again, I'd come out with liking it more. Unfortunately, I still feel that it's a little too long and the storyline is a little sketchy.  It takes so long to get to the action, that when it finally arrives it seems rushed and slapped together.  Also, there seems to be a whole subplot on the brother that really goes nowhere and it's frustrating because so much time has been spent with that character, that could have been used in for the main plot.  However, there is a shining star in this whole film, which is the work done by Rick Baker and his team special effect people.  The monster is creepy and it looks like a grown up "It's Alive" creature and there are some good death scenes that are worth catching.  This isn't Tobe Hooper's (Poltergeist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) best work but still it has it's moments and it's worth taking a look.  

1. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) - Young Will Halloway and his chum, Jim Nightshade are excited to see the carnival that is coming and race off into the night when they hear the train pulling in during the night.  When they get to the grounds, they are surprised to see the carnival tents are already up even though they arrived just moments ago.  They sneak into and look around some of the tents but are eventually frightened home by a tent full of spiders.
  The next day, they go to the carnival and notice some peculiar things, like their rigid school teacher seems dazed after a walk through the mirror maze, the cigar store owner disappears after winning a thousand dollars and while peeping into dancing girls show, they see the barber is being undressed magically by ladies.  Umm eww.  The strangest thing they discover is the merry go around that can make you young again if it's spun backwards.   They see it when they sneak in back into the carnival when it's closed again that night.  However, Mr. Dark, the proprietor of  the carnival catches them and tries to buy their silence off with tickets but the boys run away and become the enemy of the evil Mr. Dark.  Now that Will and Jim are on Mr. dark's shit list, they go for help from the only person who hasn't been taken in by the carnival, Will's old man, Mr. Halloway.  Can he help the boys stop Mr. Dark from stealing everyone's soul or are they destined to be carried off to the next town forever?
  Loosely based on a Ray Bradbury novel, this film freaked me out when I was a kid and just like Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949), it has left many creepy memories with me.  Jonathan Pryce plays Mr. Dark in such an excellent way, that you'd believe he's the devil himself.  Jason Robards also does an great job as Will's father, the older man with a bad heart but with the guile and wit that only he can help destroy the evil carnival.  Although, some don't consider this a horror, it does have some intriguing elements of the occult.  It has witches, magic and deals with people selling their souls for what they believe is what they love the most.  This is in no way a blood bath and the body count is pretty low but for a chilling tale about carnivals, it's the best one I've seen all week.

The magic of the carnival hasn't left me completely, I still like going on rides and I'll play the odd game, but it doesn't seem to have the same allure.  Most of the time, my biggest fear isn't the ride but wondering if the ride will stay together.  I'm sure it will, but I always hold on a little tighter now.

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