MAGIC (1978 United States)

158854198_9fcafdI will begin by saying that I think most so-called horror films today are flat-out laughable or just offensive. They usually (though not always) contain overdone visual effects, shallow vulgar characters, weak cast, a high body count of people we never got to know, etc.

Here we have a dose of what real horror can be. This adaptation of William Goldman’s book is at least plausible. Anthony Hopkins is suitably tortured as Corky: a failed magician who spruces up his act with a touch of ventriloquism. His dummy, Fats,  bears an uncanny resemblance to Hopkins. Corky hits the big time, thanks to his manager, who catapults Corky to fame. This is something that Corky is scared of as he is due to undergo a medical before an all important appearance on television. Terrified at the prospect of his undiagnosed schizophrenia being diagnosed, Corky and Fats flee to the Catskills mountains. He stays at a near deserted resort which is run by his former high school sweetheart, played by Ann Margret. The rest of the story concentrates on a love affair between the two. To complicate matters, his manager (Burgess Meredith) shows up with the intention of returning with his new-found star. But tragic unforeseen events prevent him from returning. Then Ann Margret’s macho husband shows up. You can feel Corky’ s guilt and fear when his blue-collar rival is near. Hopkins and his double plan a few surprises for the couple which result in some very fine acting.

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Magic contains one truly classic sequence. It occurs between two fantastic actors: Anthony Hopkins and Burgess Meredith. “Gang Green” (Meredith) pays his client Corky (Hopkins) a surprise visit in a country cabin. Green is convinced that Corky has gone insane and presents him what should have been a simple challenge: “Make Fats (the dummy) shut up for five minutes.” The tension that follows is unmistakable as we watch the brilliant Hopkins struggle through these seconds. Meanwhile, Green studies his client with a prophetic eye, knowing that his young magician client can’t accomplish the task. It’s incredibly suspenseful waiting for Corky to crack, because we already know what Green does, and now are just anticipating his reaction. You will likely never forget this scene, and will feel compelled to watch the film more than one time to relive it.

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Of course there are many other delights in this minor horror film, which had the misfortune of being released at almost the same time as John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” The former movie is for teenagers hungry for action whereas “Magic” is more a character study for adults. For those of you who enjoy Ann Margret, we get an eyeful of her as well, while Ed Lauter is quietly threatening as her suspicious husband. Even Fats himself is charming and creepy all at once. Hopkins is the real standout performer though, he takes understatement to the point of numbness. This film is ‘of it’s time’ – very grainy 70s film stock, bleak, spooky and occasionally terrifying. The sinister orchestral music by Jerry Goldsmith helps – but still we are left trying to decide whether Hopkins is mad or is the dummy really alive?

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