Carny (2009)

CarnyReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Lou Diamond Phillips, A.C. Peterson, Simone-Elise Girard, Vlastra Vrana

Directed by Sheldon Wilson

I remember listening to an audio interview on another site a while back with a screenwriter who’d done work for Andrew Stevens’ production company talking about how Stevens would always tell the guy to save his good material for any spec scripts he was trying to sell to the major studios because he was only in the business of “making sausage”, as Stevens described it. Real sausage, the edible sausage, you can cook it up anyway you want: fry it, broil it, barbecue it, sauté it, chop it up and smother it in onions, serve it on a bun, wrap it in a pancake, pour ketchup or mustard on it, even get really crazy and put some whipped crème and chopped nuts on it to make a banana split out of it if you want. The sausage is the ingredient and you do with it what you will before eating it. The problem with the sausage mentality in regards to moviemaking – even b-moviemaking – is that cinematic sausage is what it is and it cannot be anything else. If the movie you’re being served is nothing more than tasteless sausage then that is all it can ever be. Nothing you do can give it more flavor or serve it up in a manner more satisfactory to your palette.

That brings me to the latest Sci-Fi Channel original creature feature Carny – cinematic sausage offering nothing to tantalize your tastebuds.

A fairly competently made for what it is film yet every aspect of it aspires for nothing more than the bare minimum. Everything about it is routine. Everything about it feels too familiar. There is nary a spark of inspiration to it. Creatively lazy at every turn. Every character a stereotype; every plot point direct from the recycler. Disinterest sets in rapidly as an undeniable sense of “Who cares?” oozes from its pours. Movies like this are a time waster, yes, but a time waster denotes a waste of time and there is something seriously sad about producers that care so little that making a waste of time like this so long as they turn a profit is a career choice they’re happy to shoot for.

The thing I’ve been able to appreciate about the Sci-Fi Channel’s originals even as I maintain a love/hate relationship has been the schlock factor. Every so often I’d get one that was so ridiculously silly or over-the-top bad it achieved a higher degree of watchability than many of the better made yet infinitely pedestrian productions such as this. Every so often you’d get something with some inspired lunacy behind it. As goofy as a Mansquito may be or as unbelievably stupid as a Nature Unleashed: Tornado, as must-be-seen-to-be-believed bad as a Skeleton Man, at least they show some signs of a pulse even when the only thing keeping their heart pumping is the schlock value. I’ve long since given up hoping for genuinely good movies from Sci-Fi – they come along less frequently than Haley’s Comet – so at the very least I cross my fingers hoping for something that delivers some campy fun without dipping too deeply into the well of campy self-actualization or the sea of banality.

Ah, yes, banality; a word I find myself writing with increasing frequency when discussing the recent crop of Sci-Fi Channel originals. Having been watching these films as long as I have it has become impossible not to notice that Sci-Fi and the companies that make movies for them just keep going down the same road over and over again, happily, it would appear. One of my favorite sayings is “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is in many ways the Sci-Fi Channel filmmaking philosophy. They don’t call it insanity although they certainly keep doing the same things over and over again. Though that saying may not apply here since Sci-Fi doesn’t appear to expect or care about achieving different results.

CarnyThis again brings me back to Carny. A murderous monster gets loose in a small community. Characters constantly stalk the woods in search of the monster stalking them. Local rednecks form a posse to hunt down the creature. A character with sinister intentions wants the creature alive and is willing to kill for it. A wooden leading man sets about to save the day. A person, preferably female, with some insider knowledge assists him. This is every Sci-Fi Channel monster movie you’ve ever seen regurgitated with only the variables slightly modified. The only thing three-dimensional about Carny were the dimensions of the computer animated monster and somehow even the texture of it managed to look more rubbery than the actual rubber puppet monster head used a few times.

The monster-of-the-week this time around is the Jersey Devil. Like a dragon crossbred with a pig, short and stout in a size, capable of running on all fours or flying with its bat-like wings in search of the blood it hungers for. With some minor tweaking to the design they could have also said it was a Chupacabra and nobody would know the difference. Could just as easily bill it as a pygmy gargoyle too. Neither its look nor its actions do anything to elevate it from the status of being just another generic movie monster that fails to stand out from the pack.

A man from New Jersey somehow captured a real live Jersey Devil and is looking to sell it to this small-time carny operator. If I caught such a thing I think my first call would be to CNN or National Geographic, some media body that could guarantee me maximum publicity and the potential to make millions. This dolt is clearly too stupid to live, a fact the carny realizes, which is why he murders the dolt and steals his monster.

The carnival is currently set up in some podunk town that I believe was said to be somewhere in Nebraska. Yes, Nebraska by way of Canada. This is one of those made-for-television movies that looks every bit like a made-for-television movie shot in Canada. Given the premise and visual aesthetic, Carny has the makings of a particularly lousy “X-Files” episode.

The carnival setting, even one as paltry as the carnival set here, should have provided many avenues of intrigue. Instead all roads lead to the woods where characters will skulk about for nearly half the movie.

I’m not fully up to speed on Jersey Devil lore but it would seem they have an aversion to popcorn; at the very least, flicking popcorn at a Jersey Devil sends it into a violent rage. A heckler not impressed by this sideshow oddity does just that, infuriating the beast enough to allow it to break free from its bondage.

A fire & brimstone preacher rants and raves like someone that never got the memo about the coming of the 20th century, let alone the 21st. The man apparently views sideshow carnivals as an abomination against God. To listen to him rant about sideshow carnivals you’d think a gay pride parade had come to town. After his son gets killed, the stereotypical stark-raving religious wacko becomes convinced the creature really is the devil incarnate, eventually proselytizing a small group of Billy Bob rednecks into a carnival burning lynch mob. If I make this character sound more amusing than he is, I apologize. He’s as boring as every other character.

None are more boring than Lou Diamond Phillips as the everyman local sheriff. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips where he had less to do than this. Even when the script attempts to establish a potential romance between him and a carnival psychic woman they totally forget to include the romance part yet still expect us to care about their bond.

The chef being forced to serve up this sausage is Sheldon Wilson (Shallow Ground, Screamers: The Hunting). Much like Diamond Phillips, he has nothing to work with. I can’t imagine having the unenviable task of directing a rampaging monster movie where the budget barely allows for the monster to have any screen time, when it does appear it doesn’t do all that much, and the most creative scene in the entire movie is the means by which the monster is killed and even that the film’s paltry budget wasn’t enough to allow it to be fully visualize it.

Bland tasteless sausage.

1 out of 5

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  • toxicmist

    Where can I download a copy of this?

  • PrairieGhost

    There was the Jersey Devil movie that was like Blair Witch but I don’t even remember the name of it and it wasn’t really that good.

    • The Woman In Black

      Last Broadcast? I rather liked it up until the very end when it broke its own rules.

      • PrairieGhost

        That would be it. It wasn’t horrible just nothing great either.

  • PrairieGhost

    This is the first review to ever make me hungry.

  • Genrewriter

    Has there ever been a good Jersey Devil movie? Seems like nobody can get that particular urban myth right in a satisfying manner.

    • krawlingkhaos

      Sadly, no.