Brian Corder, what have you done? The opening credits for Carnies are accompanied by a score sufficiently creepy to induce us to watch the film. Historical horror set in 1936, Carnies is all downhill after the credits—and it’s a very steep hill.
First… the Wildman of Borneo bites the head off a chicken… then… a dwarf fire-eater hangs himself… then… another man is stabbed to death, and all the while an evil-looking character with horrifying dentition is seen skulking around, muttering, then slits the throat of another victim and starts eating unknown parts—a heart maybe—with his rotting teeth, many of which seem to be missing.
“Another day at the local high school,” you say? No! This is horror at its most horrible. I mean, awful. Despite its Depression-era setting, the carnival boss, Helen (Denise Gossett), looks like a refugee from the 1920s. The “historical adviser” (amusingly, there’s one in the credits) for this flick should have been paid with a rubber check. In an early scene, the audience sees a late-20th/early-21st era bench. Costumes are more non-descript than period, and the actors didn’t cooperate in the hair department.
At first Carnies seems to be a mid-level B-movie (some of the actors can deliver their lines convincingly, others can’t act at all), but it’s more of a slasher film. There is a huge cast (not Ben Hur huge), but most of the characters get stabbed or have their throats slashed before we know who they are. Some of the actors deliver their lines in what sounds to be very poor Eastern European accents and others seem to have had their lines poorly dubbed in after filming.
This is all tied together with a centuries-old Turkish legend about a beautiful seductress who makes a deal with a demon. (Speaking of demons, we get to see a few every now and then… maybe they were spliced in to keep us guessing? It certainly wasn’t for continuity. And… speaking of continuity… oh, never mind.)
There are never enough carnival patrons or ambient noise to convince the audience to suspend disbelief, and the sets are claustrophobic. Among the carnies is a sword swallower who is also a knife thrower who is also a ventriloquist who is also a magician—with this one-man show, the rest of the carnival is redundant!
One very strange scene shows the curator of an exhibition of embryos in jars. He talks to the embryos and they talk and cry. It actually seems as if this might be part of the story. Really… don’t talking, dead embryos suspended in liquid demand some kind of explanation? By the way, they aren’t animated in any way; even wailing embryos whose Mason jars have been smashed don’t twitch or move a muscle. It’s all just a setup to add another corpse to the pile.
In the most entertaining scene, the strongman is jumped by a gang of locals. The choreography of their fight is cartoon-like, though fights in early Popeye cartoons are more impressive. As you would expect from the description so far, the strong man is not muscle-bound. He can, though, fight off four men at once.
As it turns out Carnies is a lower-tier B-movie. Trying to find something that it does right—just one thing—the best one can say is, “It ends.” Scheduled for an October 12 release, the DVD includes seven special features: “Behind the Scenes,” Doug Jones interview (Doug Jones being the only memorable member of the cast), Reggie Bannister interview, a music video, a slideshow, the original trailer, and coming attractions.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent/stream Carnies? None of the above. Director Brian Corder might have done better if he tried for a horror comedy rather than a “thriller/drama.”