Re-Watch Review:: Magic (1978)

Take heart kiddies, for every movie that is not quite as good as you recall there is another film that is way better than you remember. Take RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH'S 1978 deadly dummy opus MAGIC for example; once you adjust to the idea that there's nothing supernatural going on, it's really a fantastic, character-driven, psychological horror movie. My history with the flick goes like this: the notoriously kindertraumatic TV commercial creeped the crap out of me as a critter and then when I mustered the bravery to watch the movie as a teen (in the height of the gore boom), I found it to be as threatening as a splinter. Maybe my bloodthirsty expectations were too high but sorry, the bludgeoning of BURGESS MEREDITH wasn't going to cut it. Flash forward to today-ville and I've changed my plea to semi-obsessed. I'd say the changing of my tune is due to my need for on screen violence lessening and my getting older and relating to the characters more. Plus, I recently very much enjoyed the book that it's based on by William Goldman.

Call me crazy but I think one of life's great pleasures is reading a book that a movie was based on (or one of those tie-in novels based on a script). It's so fun to contrast and compare and every added or altered tidbit is a prize. Goldman's novel MAGIC solidified the film for me and although he certainly did a marvelous job on his adapted screenplay, I now have a better grasp of what was missing in the movie (for me) all these years. Unsurprisingly, my qualms are kindertrauma inclined. The book does a far better job filling us in on the main character's troubled childhood and abandonment by his mother, which goes a long way in explaining his mindset. Additionally, the central love story makes more sense when we are privy to the characters' full history together. Finally MAGIC's sly shell game finale works fine in the book but not at all on screen. Too little effort was made to adjust to the changed medium and I think it would have been better to drop the misdirection and go full on cat & mouse mode. Anything would be better than the film's bizarre last scene that stomps all over what should have been a bittersweet final note.

So there's a couple things I'd rather were done differently but that doesn't mean I can't still love it. At its core, MAGIC is pretty straightforward morality tale about the horror of loosing one's sense of self in an effort to achieve acceptance. ANTHONY HOPKINS portrays Corky Withers, a down on his luck magician who ads an obnoxious ventriloquist dummy to his act in a last ditch effort to save his career. The dummy "Fatts" is basically Corky's dark side, a wooden manifestation of his id. He's sort of like a precursor to an internet troll who "speaks his mind" and becomes popular with those who are cathartically thrilled by hostility but unwilling to pay the consequences themselves.

At first Fatt's cutting aggressiveness is a watershed for socially stumbling Corky and he becomes a magnet for success but his alter ego becomes harder to keep in line and soon there's a question of which persona will dominate. Like many an addict, Corky is left choosing between a mutant-self that promises plenty but threatens to eclipse him and an authentic self whose track record is marred by seclusion and little joy.

Seeing MAGIC all cleaned up on DVD in its proper ratio reveals it's certainly a lot more atmospheric than I remembered. The run-down lake house property that much of the film's later action takes place in, is deliciously dank, gloomy and downright ill-boding. The real stars of the show however are its two (or should I say three?) lead performances. I think we all know what ANTHONY HOPKINS is capable of. Truth told, our guy's weird accent in this movie is so all over the place that it's nearly kaleidoscopic but it matters zero because he's impossible to be bored by. Creepily, his very last line in the film "Kiss the girl goodbye" I swear, is full on, 100% Hannibal Lecter, to the point of giving me chills. It's almost like you can hear Hannibal being born in this movie...I kid you not. The way HOPKINS is able to bring both Fatts and Corky to life is impressive indeed and God bless ATTENBOROUGH for leaving in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment with Fatts clearly moving on his own accord, just to keep us on our toes. And then there's ANN-MARGRET who've I've been in love with ever since she sang a lullaby to Pebbles on THE FLINTSTONES as Ann- Margrock. She's every shade of charming and effortlessly pushes the point that MAGIC is as much a tragic love story as it is a horror/thriller.

Geez, I feel like I haven't said enough about Fatts! I totally get my younger self's desire to see him leaping around like a mad monkey slashing folks (as Chucky would soon do) but there's no denying how creepy Fatts is just chilling out, sitting still. The fact that he is designed to vaguely resemble HOPKINS certainly adds much to his unsettling quality and rarely has a non-human been such a scene-stealer. And that voice! That voice, I'm sure has launched countless nightmares. Um, where is the remake of MAGIC? That's what I'd like to know. Talk about your sleeping giants! All you'd need to do is cram some action into the final act, add a dream sequence in which Fatts massacres a busload of children and then cast SAM ROCKWELL and NAOMI WATTS as leads. Throw out a trailer that perfectly mimics the original trailer and then sit back and watch the money roll in! Who could resist it? Not me. Anyway, if you haven't seen MAGIC in a while, watch it again and just prepare to forgive it for not ramping up the thrills in the climax. And do read the book, I highly recommend it! And don't forget to listen to the theme song "Magic" by Olivia Newton John (Don't correct me, my fantasy world is an improvement on reality)!

Once, Then & Now :: Mickster on Buried Alive (1990)

I first watched BURIED ALIVE on USA back in 1990. I was still living at home and just starting college. Although I had not yet felt the sting of betrayal in a relationship, I immediately identified with the character Clint (TIM MATHESON). Clint is a hardworking and faithful husband. I have always been a rule-follower in my life, so I have issues with people who do not follow the rules. For that reason, I disliked the characters Joanna (JENNIFER JASON LEIGH) and Cort (WILLIAM "No Dick" ATHERTON- GHOSTBUSTERS). I cheered for Clint as he meticulously exacted revenge against his plotting wife and her lover. I also fussed at Joanna over the numerous dumb moves she made along the way (i.e., not giving Clint the full amount of fishy poison in his wine, skipping the embalming, and racing to sell his business and home). Overall, nineteen-year-old Mickster found the movie entertaining and the ending satisfying.

I was excited when I found of copy of BURIED ALIVE at Monster Mania in early June 2011. I had not seen it since 1990 and as far as I knew, it had not been released on DVD. Before I had a chance to enjoy it though life dealt me a devastating blow. Having discovered my ex-spouse had also been unfaithful, I now had more in common with Clint than I did when I watched the movie before. In late July, I managed to make myself watch it again and it made my blood boil. In fact, it was almost too much for me to take at that point. I sat down and started to write about the movie...

"I can relate to Clint Goodman's plight. I feel his pain at being screwed over by the person who is supposed to care the most in his life. Clint is a ‘good man' who loves his wife and wants nothing more than to build a long-lasting life with her. He has built her a beautiful country home and has a successful contracting company. When his wife says that she is going into the city overnight to shop and hangout with her girlfriends, Clint believes her without question. Clint's wife, however, is a lying, scheming whore with nefarious plans for her good and trusting husband."

Clearly forty-year-old Mickster was pissed off and a bit too close to the subject matter. Unkle Lancifer, being the sweetheart he is, suggested I walk away from writing about the film while my feelings were so raw. I agreed and pushed it aside until now.

I am now ready to revisit my old friend, BURIED ALIVE. It serves as a stark reminder of the thin line between love and hate. Although I still side with Clint throughout the movie, I have to point out some things he should have recognized, as I have had to do the same in my own life. It is clear to anyone watching the film that Joanna is not into her husband or the life he is trying desperately to build with her. Clint, like many of us in disintegrating relationships, is too busy trying to make this life work to see the problems before him. He assumes that because he is faithful and kind that his wife is too. This was an enormous mistake on Clint's part, which almost cost him his life. Even his loyal Rottweiler recognizes what a fraud his wife is. Animals are wise in these matters and can sense a phony quickly. (Note to my sweet kitty Professor Von Whiskersen, I should have noticed your reactions to the ex. I will trust your judgment from now on.)

When Clint wakes up in a coffin, digs his way out, and stumbles home, he is floored by what he discovers. Clint's deep love quickly turns to bitter hatred and he plans his revenge. Even though Joanna and her scheming lover richly deserve this revenge, I feel that ultimately Clint would be unable to bear his actions since he is at heart loving and kind.

A lot can change in the way you view a film. Twenty-two years ago, Mickster was simply entertained. Nine months ago, Mickster was most definitely outraged. Now, Mickster is older, wiser, and thankfully calmer. I know it is only a movie, but I wish Clint had given himself the time to think things through more clearly. People like Joanna and Cort will ultimately destroy themselves with their selfishness. Clint could have watched this happen from the sidelines without soiling his own hands in the process.