Abracadabra, I sit on his knee.
Presto chango, and now he is me.
Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed.
Magic is fun... we're dead.
These were the words said by Fats the ventriloquist dummy in the first trailer for the 1978 film Magic. It's a creepy thirty second teaser showing nothing but the dummy against a black background and is the kind of trailer we don't seem to get anymore yet I would venture would still be very effective. The first time I saw it I knew this was a film I had to see, as well as been very intriguing in it's own right I've been a huge fan of the killer toy subgenera of horror ever since I saw Child's Play when I was thirteen.
Now while I still see Magic as a killer toy film it isn't one in the same vein as Child's Play or Puppet master, rather it is a slow paced phycological horror, a character study of failed magician turned ventriloquist Corky Withers (Anthony Hopkins) and his dummy Fats.
The film starts showing us that Corky, though a talented magician, has little in the way of stage presence as he is timid and quiet and does little to grab the audiences attention, this all changes a few years latter when he add's a partner to his act, a ventriloquist dummy named Fat's who is loud, foul mouthed, rude and grabs the audiences attention right away. Corky's rise to fame is quick but at the last moment right as he is about to get a television pilot he flees not wanting to take the mandatory medical exam.
The rest and majority of the film show's us Corky as he rents a small house next to a lake in his home town, and his relationship with former school yard crush Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margaret) as they fall in love. But as you may have guessed things aren’t so swell for Corky as Fat's feels as though he's been left out of the picture.
The screenplay was written by William Goldman based on his own novel, if you recognise the name this is no surprise, he has a long list of work, two notable examples would be both the novels and screenplays for Marathon Man and the Princess Bride. Now I have not yet read the novel but would very much like to one day, from what I have read up on it it goes much more into Corky's back story, showing various parts of his live growing up in the small town. The film has a little of this, a couple flash backs as he is first returning to the town showing us glimpses of his life, but I would love to find out more.
It would be a crime for me not to also mention that the great Burgess Meredith, best known for his roles as the Penguin in the 1960's Batman show and Mickey in the Rocky series, plays Corky's agent Ben Greene, and as you may expect he's fantastic in the role. Actor and stand-up comedian Ed Lauter also has a role in the film.
There were other actors considered for the role of Corky, Jack Nicholson turned it down due to not wanting to wear a hairpiece, both director and screenwriter wanted Gene Wilder for the role but producer Joseph E. Levine didn't want an actor known for comedy in the lead. Now I love the film as it is and Anthony Hopkins is fantastic, but part of me would love to have seen what a version of the film staring Wilder would have been like.
Fats himself looks fantastic, he was designed as a caricature of Hopkins himself though very much exaggerated, this lends well to the film as they always look great when on screen together. There is a great story told by Dennis Alwood, a ventriloquist who worked on the film, about the first night Fats was left with Hopkins and he ended up getting a call at three in the morning with Hopkins saying, “Come get this ****ing dummy out of my house it's freaking me out!”. That story and others can be heard in a thirty minute behind the scene's film called 'Fats and Me' (which can be found on youtube).
This is a great little horror film yet one I don't hear people talk about too often and really is a shame, it's well paces, acted and genuinely frightening, I was never sure where it was going from the moment Corky fled to his home town.