Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1112
Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
When watching this week’s experiment, it’s easy to write it off as an amateur production, some side product by, say, a fertilizer salesman who had contacts with a local carnival and always wanted to get into pictures. As a matter of fact, director Al Adamson had been in the business for two decades when he made this film, mostly skeevy drive-in fare with titles like Lash of Lust and Black Samurai. Oddly, after filling the 60s and 70s with exploitation films that would make Tarantino roll his eyes, his last two films (this one, and 1983’s Lost) seem to have been made with a family audience in mind. Mind you, neither film ever saw theatrical release (as far as can be told) so it hardly matters. Watching this, it’s easy to understand why.
We open with Tom Servo on the mic giving one of his “TOM Talks”. Yes, it’s a TED Talk spoof. And yes, he does utterly skewer them. The more of these you’ve seen, the more this parody hits home. In fact, I think I may have seen this one…
Picking up on the big plot point from last episode, Kinga formally announces her intent to marry Jonah if he knows what’s good for him. Max, distraught, tries desperately to talk him out of it. Now, there is a very good case for horrible death vs being hitched to a Forrester, but Jonah chooses to go it the hard way, and the wedding is on. But first: invention exchange! From the SOL, Yeasta Pets. For when you just don’t have room in your life for multi-cellular companions. I had a pet yeast once myself, actually. Awful quiet, but everyone agreed he was a fungi.
From Moon 13 comes “Flavor Sweat”, a new beverage that makes your sweat taste good. One can only imagine what the Rule 34 crowd is going to do with that idea. Comes in pumpkin pie, extra-cheesy pizza (not recommended), and more.
So, this movie. It does indeed take place in one of those sketchy traveling carnivals which used to go from fairground to fairground but these days seem to crop up in abandoned K-Mart parking lots. They’re barely getting by, in the fine tradition of these things, until it turns out the magician has a talking chimpanzee. No, really. That’s what they’re going with, here. Naturally, they turn the evolutionary wonder of the age into a cheap comedy magic act, which becomes the hit of the show. This puts the animal trainer’s nose out of joint, and in a fit of spite he ape-naps the competition and sells him to a lab for medical experiments. Will the magician rescue him in time? Will the carnival be saved? Will the b-plot romance between the carny owner’s daughter and PR guy leave you with serious questions about the age spread between those two? Oh, you bet they will.
Funnily enough, the end of the movie teases a sequel, the creatively titled More Carnival Magic. Sadly, it was not to be, and that film joins Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League and E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears in the great screening room of coulda-beens.
For the first host segment, the SOL crew give their impression of the somewhat underwhelming magic act from the movie, proclaiming it “well within the realms of your imagination”. Crow, doing duty as Alexander (the chimp), squats off to one side, making little deadpan remarks about the weather while Jonah as Markov (the magician) struts and poses in the most annoying manner known to man or beast.
The second host segment has Tom & Crow portraying the redneck cops (that spend an entirely useless sequence chasing a car driven by Alexander) and arguing over each other’s CB jargon. Ah, yes, CB’s. For you young folks out there, that’s what we had before chatrooms. Except they were even more annoying and the “lingo” was…well, let’s just say it has not aged well. Next time you millennials out there get stick from an older person about using text-speak, just lay a little of this on them until they see the error of their ways.
The third segment brings us a flying circus tent, and–surprise! Mark Hamil, best known for his roles in Corvette Summer and the voice of the skull in Tom and Jerry in Shiver Me Whiskers, is the ringmaster for a show that is unbelievable. Literally, in this case, because he turns out the lights and you can’t see a thing. Also, there’s a song. This is an extra treat, as we haven’t really gotten an example of his musical chops since that one time on The Muppet Show. Definitely one of the more entertaining cameos of the season.
Post-movie, the SOL crew gets treated to an underwhelming circus parade of selected “highlights” from the film in a show that makes the parade in Fun in Balloonland look, well, fun. Also, Crow has a blonde wig.
Carnival Magic sank without trace when it was finished in 1981, and as I mentioned earlier there are doubts it ever even saw screening. For a long time it was considered “lost” until a pristine copy showed up, whereupon it has rightfully taken its place in the b-movie scene. It just goes to show that you never know what long-forgotten cinematic turdbiscuits are lurking in darking corners, waiting for the stars to align that they may once again stalk the earth.
What do you think, sirs?
Kelly Luck ran away from the circus so she could get a soulless office job. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.