31 Days of Horror – October 1st – “Magic” (1978)

I forget when this movie officially came on my radar but I feel like it’s been more recent than not, probably within the last few years or so. This one caters to one of those more specific kinds of “fears” though not in a straightforward kind of manner. “Magic” is all about a relatively young Anthony Hopkins finding his career path as a fledgling magician who adopts a comedic ventriloquist doll by the name of “Fats” to tweak his act. Now I know for many folks the idea of a “dummy” is spooky enough. Sure, their endless gaze is an easy way to creep yourself out and when you add in the idea that you just might have seen it move on its own, now you can actively feel those hairs on the back of your neck start to stand. But that’s not really the nuts and bolts of this story. The psychological toll this mental partnership takes between Corky and Fats is the real balancing act.

Magic (1978)

In an effort to avoid simply trapsing through the plot of this movie and ruining it in the end, I’ll try and focus more on what I really did enjoy about this movie. This movie really zeroes in on the psychological acrobatics that Hopkins goes through to manage two dueling but symbiotic personalities. While the advent of Fats to Corky’s act seems to provide the necessary catalyst to skyrocket him to fame and fortune, it’s also very much the potential undoing of his psyche as well. Attempting to keep these two personalities separate becomes increasingly difficulty for Corky. Even more than simply keeping them in their respective lanes, trying to remember who is actually “in charge” also becomes a chore as that line between reality and fiction blurs more and more substantially as the movie progresses.

Hopkins performance is quite remarkable. Understanding that he took to learning ventriloquism for the role only adds to the impressive nature of his dual roles. You can really see him employing the craft in the movie. It lends an air of authenticity to the film that strengthens the world you’re entering into with Corky and Fats. This is also the earliest role I’ve ever seen Hopkins in as well. He’s easily recognizable but his youthfulness and exuberance allow his growing mania to unfold in some very interesting ways. Paired along side Hopkins in this film is a small but very complimentary cast. The two biggest assets to the cast are Ann Margaret and Burgess Meredith. I enjoy mentioning David Ogden Stiers just because I sincerely enjoy his name. Meredith plays Corky’s agent bent on turning the new act into a Hollywood sensation. You’ll never see him without a cigar and he also serves as the foil to Corky’s degrading mental state by confronting him late in the film. Margaret plays a long lost love that Corky seeks out in retreat from an impending medical exam necessary for Corky and Fats to begin their climb up the network ladder. It’s this required physical that initially spooks Corky into running in the first place. This is an important notation as it does denote some level of clarity on our protagonist’s perspective that his mental state is in a state of flux that others looking closely would no doubt identify. It is also curious that he is aware enough of this fact to run but not capable enough to do something helpful about it. Ultimately this causes some of the most significant turmoil for our main character as anything could or would.

The tension in this movie builds in a morse code style in my estimation. There are longer dashes of slow denigration of Corky’s mental state as he meanders through his spiral. These help to really build that lingering creepy feeling. The fact that the vaudevillian nature of Corky and Fats’ act does render some measure of humor breaks up the tension at times by lulling you into relatively comedic alcoves. Breaking that building tension by subverting your expectations comedically also allows for the brief but more concentrated instances of a far greater level of aggressive tension. There are only a handful of instances of these throughout the film but their application decidedly puts the viewer on edge and really heightens the emotional acuity of the tonal direction of the presentation. For a film from 1978, the attention to a growing and enveloping fugue state as it overwhelms Corky is entertainingly adept and handled well in my estimation. I really quite enjoyed this movie all the way throughout. While I wouldn’t push it all the way to the front of the list of psychological thrillers, I would say it’s worked it’s fay into my favor and I have plans to add this film to my collection in the near future.

The last note I think I want to hit is on the “dummy” himself, Fats. As a fan of the R.L. Stine series of books “Goosebumps” during my youth, I was quite pleased to find out that the puppet and voice used in this film served as the inspiration for the character of “Slappy” used frequently throughout the volumes. The fact that Fats bears such a striking resemblance to Hopkins is simultaneously endearing and off putting. The range of emotion capable in the face of Fats is also impressive. In a day when we are inundated with CGI fixes for everything, the practical ability of Fats to display all manner of facial expression with such specificity is considerably impressive. Hopkins ability as Corky to be two competing voices and personalities is equally enthralling. The fact that the power struggle betwixt the two is as great is it is marks why this movie is ultimately as entertaining and all around creepy as it is. I think this is why when I get to the end of this movie I can’t help but recommend it. It’s well made, well acted and compact in it’s timing. It’s not perfect by any means but as my initial entry into this 31 day experiment I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. I would definitely recommend for a good creepy entry into your own horror film festival this spooky season. And with that, I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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