When people reminisce about the great match-ups of all time, talk will inevitably hone in on Ali vs. Frazier, Tunney vs. Dempsey, or, for boxing non-enthusiasts, Eckersley vs. Gibson. For film fans, talk will likely drift to Godzilla vs. Mothra, McClane vs. Gruber, or even Feddy vs. Jason. Well folks, a new movie has thrown its hat into the ring, and it is called Carny. What potentially legendary match-up does Carny feature, you ask? Why, nothing less than Lou Diamond Phillips vs. the Jersey Devil. Will these two foes unseat any of the classic brawlers mentioned above? Read on and see.
For those who haven’t heard of the Jersey Devil, it is sort of a rural East Coast Chupacabra-style legend. You may have seen it on the X-Files way back in its first season. It has been portrayed in various tales as a flying biped with hooves, a large owl, and, on The X-Files, as a beast woman. In Carny it is a large and vicious bat-like monstrosity that has some black hair but looks a bit too smooth and rubbery to be a living creature, as does Phillips.
As the film opens, the Devil, having been somehow trapped and transported alive by a too-dumb-to-live ninny, is being delivered to a super-creepy carnival/freak show that has set up in Small Midwestern Town. The creepy owner has shady plans to sell the beast for a huge profit, but in the meantime, intends to put the thing on display and rake in even more dough. Unfortunately, his creepy assistant who, after attempting to wrangle the Devil to its new home by pulling it along by a chain (presumably attached to a collar around its neck, like one would with, say, a Spaniel), loses an eye and some of his already fading good looks, shows poor skills at securing their new exhibit. The rattly cage and wiggly tent pole that the Devil is chained to as the tent fills with yokels should be a dead giveaway, but hey, the man is coping with the recent loss of an eye and the requisite loss of depth perception.
Well, everything goes well for a few moments as the monster is revealed to the public. Fears that popping flashbulbs will enrage it and set it on a murderous rampage like a winged King Kong are put to rest as it weathers the cameras and flashes with the jaded professionalism of Paris Hilton walking a red carpet. Unfortunately, the one thing that the Jersey Devil can apparently not abide is popcorn, because when a couple of kernels are flicked at him by the town smartass he becomes enraged and is set on a murderous rampage like a winged King Kong.
The rest of the movie proceeds just about exactly as anyone would predict. The Devil and the town smartass have a brief but loud encounter, people are mutilated, most of the cast spend their time tromping around in the woods, and an earnest Lou Diamond Phillips gets more and more intense as the body-count mounts. There’s even a crazed fire and brimstone preacher who goes completely bat-poop crazy over the carnival’s presence in town and eventually incites a 30s-style Frankenstein mob, complete with torches, to send the ‘freaks’ back to Hell where they belong.
This may sound like good, cheesy fun but somehow it’s not. It’s pretty much by the numbers monster movie-making with no flare or style to speak of. Neither is there any humour in evidence, and even with all the wacky potential here, none of the performances go over the top, though A.C. Peterson as the carnival owner does provide some oily menace. Everything is done competently, but the whole thing plays like a generic episode of a TV horror anthology like Tales From The Dark Side with an extra splash of gore here and there.
The DVD is presented in 1:66:1 widescreen. The picture is quite clear and sharp with a lot of outdoor scenes, especially in the woods, which abound with lush greens and browns. I spotted a few mild compression artifacts but they were rare.
The disc contains an English 5.1 soundtrack which, like everything else about this film, is competent and content to settle for that. The score is generally underwhelming but there are occasional rumbling booms in conjunction with suspenseful or shocking moments, and the growls of the creature are nice and menacing. The rear channels are occasionally put to good use, especially in the woods, but there is nothing spectacular to report.
Automatic Trailers: Sand Serpents, Sea Beast, Phantom Racer (These three trailers are more entertaining than the entire feature film on the disc)
Carny is a generic and fairly dull exercise in monster movie-making. I would only recommend it to Lou Diamond Phillips completionist fans and dedicated gore-hounds; the makeup and effects in the film range from excellent (a cool freak with a double face) to ludicrous (a bloody de-tonguing that would be right at home in a Herschell Gordon lewis movie) and may be of interest to such parties. However, the bare bones disc treatment that Carny is given makes it, at best, a rental.