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Carny (2009)

Vivendi Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/23/2010

All Ratings out of
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/7/2010

During my formative years, made-for-TV movies were ubiquitous. Every week, one or more of the major networks would trot out a movie which was often referred to as a "Major Television Event". Many of these were cheesy rip-offs of theatrical hits, but that didn't stop them from occasionally being entertainment. However, that trend died away, and now it seems that the only networks which feature original movies are Lifetime (which ironically always seem to be about women being beaten or killed) or Sci-Fi...excuse me, SyFy. To be honest, I've only caught a few moments of a handful of SyFy movies, and they looked dreadful. However, the description of Carny sounded interesting, so I thought that I'd give it a shot.

Carny is set in a small town where a traveling carnival and side-show has just rolled into town. Cap (A.C. Peterson), the carnival's owner and operator, has just purchased a new exhibit for the show, and despite the fact that it's injured his assistant, Owen (Vlasta Vrana). As the carny's set up the midway, local sheriff Altas (Lou Diamond Phillips) drops in to say hello and make sure that everything is going well. When Atlas sees the monstrous creature which Cap has just purchased, he is horrified, but Cap assures him that everything is perfectly safe. Of course, during the premiere show, the monster escapes. As it's a winged creature, the local priest declares that it's the devil and urges the townspeople to kill it. Meanwhile, the monster has developed a taste for human blood and begins to stalk people. With the assistance of carnival psychic Samara (Simone-Elise Girard), Atlas puts together a team to stop the creature.

Carny was directed by Sheldon Wilson and if you'd asked me if I've ever seen one of his films, I would have said no. However, a bit of research reveals that not only have I seen two of his movies, I've reviewed them. The fact that Kaw and Screamers: The Hunting didn't immediately jump to mind should give you an idea of his directorial style. And, I fear, I will suffer similar memory loss about Carny in the future.

As noted above, I've seen part of some other SyFy movies and what I caught was usually amateurish and riddled with lousy special-effects. Carny is able to rise above that questionable pedigree. As one would expect, the monster is kept in the shadows for a while, and when it does appear, it looks pretty good. Resembling a gargoyle of sorts, the CG creature is shot in a way which keeps it from looking totally cheesy, although there are some scenes where the scale seems to be off. Along those same lines, the movie has a surprising amount of gore for a made-for-TV film (even if it is cable), and one throat wound in particular is impressive. The acting is good for the most part and Phillips carries the film well. The introduction of an urban legend into the story gives the movie a unique twist and something different on which to hang its hat.

The problem is that the inclusion of a popular monster from the northeast is the only unique facet of Carny. After reading the plot description, I'd hoped that the movie would be an updated version of The Funhouse. But, as it turns out, it is simply a monster-on-the-loose movie and it contains all of the familiar trappings of the genre -- the devoted sheriff, the conniving man who is in it for the money, the fire-and-brimstone preacher, etc. We get the usually group of townies who pursue the creature and the smart-ass teenagers who are placed in harm's way. The carnival setting should be somewhat unique, but the "freaks" fall in line witch characters which we've seen before. Other than taking a few bits of different genres and putting them together, Carny appears to be following a checklist.

I guess that the era of home video, downloads, and on-demand has more or less killed the made-for-TV movie. Why wait for a network to broadcast something when you can simply buy or rent a movie which is probably going to be better anyway. I still miss the age of made-for-TV movies, as there were some good ones, and mediocre entries like Carny aren't doing anything to revive that trend.

Carny has small hands and smells like cabbage on DVD courtesy of Vivendi Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source material. The picture is a tad dark at times, but the colors look good. Skintones look realistic and the picture has an acceptable amount of detail. There is a some mild artifacting, but it won't distract most viewers. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and do a fine job of depicting the creature's location in some scenes. The surround sound effects were surprisingly good and really added to the attack scenes. I didn't note much in the way of subwoofer, save for some gunshots.

There are no extras on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long