Magic Retro Talk; Grade: B+
Welcome to another edition of Retro Talk! Today we’ll be discussing Richard Attenborough’s film from 1978 Magic! Magic had a budget of seven million, went onto make 23.8 million at the box office, totaling a profit of 16.8 million... So nice numbers. Magic also went on to receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Drama Anthony Hopkins.
Horror films consisting of a puppet/dolls have been well known in the genre. Mostly have been partaking supernatural field with films like Childs Play, Annabelle, Dead Silence, and recently Brahms: The Boy 2. Over the years regarding dolls/puppets in horror, we hear a lot of chatter mainly partaking Childs Play and Annabelle. Though the chatter is well deserved in the original Childs Play and The Conjuring... I come to think, why hasn’t Magic been in this discussion as well?! It may not be a killer doll or a supernatural doll, but however it is include a puppet in which does affect our lead characters mind, making him deal with a mental illness known as Schizophrenic, which is equally as terrifying as a killer doll I would say. I wouldn’t have known Magic exists, if I didn’t find it while scrolling randomly one night on HBO Max, as I figure why not spread the word on this films existence?!
Magic tells a story about a card magician Corky (Anthony Hopkins), whom at first struggled immensely on amateur night on stage performing a simple card trick. It appears Corky had no sense of stage presence as he lacked a great amount of confidence within himself. It was then Corky had to change his act in order to succeed in show business. How does Corky do it?! Putting in a new tweak in his act, by adding a new prop... A Puppet. Corky went on to be extremely successful, as his made up character Fats was a hit, making Corky a headliner and possibly getting a television deal done for NBC. As Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith), Corky’s agent tries to make a deal happen, the network asked Corky to take a simple medical exam, as Corky oddly enough had a problem in fulfilling this simple request at hand. Corky went on a temper tantrum, as he had to leave his hotel room. As we see Corky escape from reality, as he partakes in renting out a log cabin away from society. Not only was Corky renting out this log cabin to reunite with past high school crush Peggy (Ann-Margret), we also learn the significance of just why Corky would not partake in the medical exam. It turns out Corky is Schizophrenic, as he believes Fats is a real person inside his mind. Fats at first maybe a common New York douchebag kind of character you see from the streets, we soon find out Fats is much more diabolical as he feeds Corky troubling thoughts. Witness an innocent mind, turn into evil from the entity within his mind known as Fats the Puppet.
One thing that Magic stands out is how it can feel and sound reminiscent to Friday the 13th. Especially in the log cabin scenery, where this camp ground and the body of water can be resembled to Camp Crystal Lake. Also I found the Score of this film being oddly familiar to Friday the 13th’s, as they both sound very similar. Magic was released before Friday the 13th, as both films have different composers, so maybe Magic gave Friday the 13th a little inspiration?! Who knows, but I found it interesting how both look and sound similar to each other. Let’s talk about the design/costume design for the puppet: I loved it. The puppet looks like any ordinary puppet, but can look charming at times and disturbing at times, especially when it’s just staring right at you as it gets under your skin. I can’t believe this film really gave this puppet a wardrobe, as this puppet has so many different outfits to choose from. It was kind of funny the many outfits it has, as they looked pretty cool.
The cast of this film speaks high volumes regarding the horror genre, as the performances were just great as a whole cast. Anthony Hopkins whom rightfully deserves a Golden Globe nomination was fantastic as Corky and the voice over for Fats. It reminded me of what James McAvoy did in Split in a way, only this performance is much more tamed where it can be shown believable, while the other being set in a comic book setting... Ya hear that everyone?! Split was in a comic book setting, so stop crying about how Harry Wendell Crumb was portrayed in that film, it’s ridiculous. The scenes in which Hopkins’ character sweats at an alarming rate, as stress really picks up on this character was well executed, as you felt this was actually happening in real life. This portrayal of Schizophrenia is honestly top notch by Hopkins. Corky was a great character as well, though can be shown as an antagonist, he can also be shown as a protagonist as well. Before Fats came along Corky was a very nice, sweet, genuine, but shy guy who couldn’t hurt a fly. I believe the fear of failure really got to Corky, as he wanted to make his father proud and have be able to secure the love of his life, as he couldn’t do so before. As he creates the character within the puppet Fats, it gained not only a great amount of success, but also gave him a great amount of confidence. I believe Corky got caught up with the character Fats, as Corky obviously spent a great amount of time developing and practicing with this fictional character inside his mind, which eventually cause him to go insane. Whether it be Corky or voicing Fats’ voice, Anthony Hopkins performance is certainly superb in this film.
The supporting cast as well did a great job too. Corky’s romantic interest Peggy played by Ann-Margret had a great performance as well, as both Hopkins and Margret had great chemistry with each other, making this romantic pair seem believable. Peggy is in a failing marriage, as she loved Corky all the way back in high school, as Corky was too shy to make his move back then. What’s oddly interesting about this character is how mature and also naïve she is. On one hand how Peggy wants to settle departing her husband correctly rather than just departing with no trace, but on another hand she doesn’t realize that Corky has some major issues, especially during the card trick scene. Could it be that love is a distraction towards facing reality?! Maybe so. You know Burgess Meredith’s iconic role as Mickey in Rocky, as he also plays a significant small role as Corky’s agent in this film. Burgess was pretty good in this performance, honestly this is also a really good character that the audience can respect heavily. For Ben Greene as an agent he actually truly cares more about his client, than the money itself. As Ben finds Corky in this log cabin, he doesn’t push Corky into getting on back to show business, as he can clearly see Corky has mental issues that requires a great amount of care from doctors. Ben really is a breath of fresh air when it comes to humanity, a character in which genuinely cares about mental health and wants people to be better than only caring about them for their own personal worth... Speak it louder to those in the back PLEASE!
One major flaw regarding Magic is there is one standing out plot hole within this film. Basically Ben challenges Corky to not make Fats talk for five minutes straight, which is honestly a great scene. However regarding Corky’s challenge... How come this wasn’t an issue with Corky before?! Some may say “Well he had control back then, as he doesn’t now” which maybe true, but yet again if Corky can go on about normal at any given time, how is it an issue now?! Especially after that challenge occurred, Corky hangs out with Peggy’s husband on the boat fishing, as it never becomes a problem at all. I feel there should’ve been consistency there, as it doesn’t provide a standing out plot hole for this film.
When you compare and contrast this puppet/doll horror film compared to the others, you can tell there is a great amount of difference in comparison. Child’s Play and Annabelle are simply looking for scares and to provide entertainment. With Magic it is somewhat providing a scare, but in a sense of reality as this sort of thing does actually happen with people. Not only that: Magic can be seen as much more than just a horror film, it can be shown as a dramatic suspense film. I think it’s quite blasphemous this film doesn’t get the recognition it rightfully deserves, considering no one really talks about this film at all. Whether you look at it as a horror film or a dramatic suspense, it’s just a well made film!
The story at hand is well written, as you understand each character as they’re written as real human beings with real problems. It’s a story though can simply frighten you or have yourself at the edge of your seat, it can also be a really engaging film from start to finish. Regarding a sensitive subject regarding Corky’s mental illness, the film speaks volumes in which how frightening it is if not properly taken care of correctly. That’s why I believe the supporting character Ben is a fresh air, as human beings can be considered as products when it comes to show business. Majority of the time the only thing people honestly care about is money, as that can be really damaging considering the fact Corky is more than just a piece in your entertainment industry. Ben shines a light in creating discussion to throughly care about human beings whom are dealing with mental health issues, as you can make a significant difference into reaching out to those with those problems, regardless if they’re too stubborn to change themselves as it’s a serious issue disregarded time and time again. I also really enjoyed how this film concludes. I was honestly expecting the typical cliche to kick in, but this film instead changes that route, as the power of love really made Corky be in control of his own destiny. I won’t spoil it but how it concludes is certainly sad, yet very refreshing compared to the other films we have seen before. I do hope this film is talked about more over the course of the future, as this is honestly one of the better doll/puppet horror films in this genre.
Overall, Magic is a great film. I highly recommend checking this one out, can be found on HBO Max. Been awhile since I’ve done a Retro Talk that wasn’t entirely arranged, as soon as I finished this film and saw the lack of recognition... I just had to talk about it! -Mitch Smietana