20 September 2014

Magic (1978)
Contributed by Jonathan Tiersten

Actor Jonathan Tiersten played Ricky in Robert Hiltzik's cult slasher Sleepaway Camp (1983), in which he was yin to his psychotic sibling Angela's yang. He reprised his role as Ricky in the sequel Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008), and has since appeared in the recent indie horror The Perfect House (2010). But Tiersten's his first love is music; an accomplished composer and musician, he's fronted such alternative rock bands as Bambi's Apartment and Gaphiltaphunk. These days, he heads up Ten Tiers, a Colorado-based rock group who released their debut album Don's Club Tavern, Part 1 in 2006. He is currently filming Drive-In Massacre for release in 2012. His official website is jonathantiersten.com.

When The Terror Trap asked me to contribute a personal memory about a horror film, it got me to thinking about all the horror movies I've seen and which of them had the biggest impact on me. I even went back to my own top ten list on The Examiner and nothing really leaped out at me as a truly life-changing experience.

So I backed off for a day or so and suddenly it came to me. Truthfully, I was watching Red Dragon last night and that is what probably sparked a latent memory.

I honestly don't remember the first time that I watched Magic (1978). I remember thinking it was about a ventriloquist dummy, so how scary could it be?

There is one thing I have always found more terrifying than a monster who is hunting me, and that is the monster within. We all have one. We work so hard to suppress our basic animal instincts. It is the only way we can live in society. Sometimes those urges overwhelm us. Sometimes love and lust turn to obsession and violence.

What makes Anthony Hopkins' performance in Magic so memorable is his vulnerability. You really feel for Corky. He is tortured internally. He really believes that Fats (the dummy) is the sole reason for his success. In turn, Fats becomes Corky's id, tempting him to give in to his deepest and darkest desires.

This is not hard to do with Peggy (Ann Margret) as his muse. She is, as always, gorgeous. But more than that, she gives depth to a woman who is equally as unhappy as Corky and finds herself torn between attraction, sympathy and fear.

Richard Attenborough's camera work is just extraordinary. He keeps it simple. Two shots particularly stand out. One is where Ben (Burgess Meredith) challenges Corky to make Fats shut up for five seconds. The camera shifts back and forth as it creates unbearable tension until suddenly, "Here's Fats!" the dummy blurts out. At this moment, the camera goes to a tight closeup on Fats and you know he is real.

The second is when Corky (who is not a very good magician) attempts to perform a card trick for Peggy. The camera circles and swirls as we see Corky getting more and more frustrated. This is when Peggy realizes Corky might be dangerous.

The reason Fats seems so real is because Anthony Hopkins studied ventriloquism before he did the role. He does the voices of Fats and even on screen together, it is not overdubbed.

That is why Hopkins (who was an amateur) had that high pitched scream for Fats. It was the only voice he could do without moving his lips. Hopkins is able to turn that handicap into something very aggressive and dominating about Fats' personality. He is a bully. He is a very scary bully.

This film had some problems with plot line and the script got a little weak at points. In truth, it needed to be longer to fill in the gaps in the story, but they were probably already worried about the film's running time.

I can forgive its inadequacies because the acting, directing and cinematography are so outstanding. When I watched Red Dragon, I realized how embarrassing it is by comparison.

I have always loved magic (the kind people perform) and thanks to The Terror Trap, I was able to remember another kind of Magic.

My greatest fear was -- and is -- losing my mind. My sense of what is real. I know it's all an illusion, but I'm somehow able to keep it together with some basic lies I have convinced myself to believe. Even now, as I write this, I wonder: what is real? What is magic? Maybe that isn't such a bad thing.

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