Long before Silence of the Lambs (1991), Anthony Hopkins had already mastered the psychopath role, in the minor classic of horror Magic (1978).
Though based on the novel by William Goldman, from his own screenplay, Magic frankly treats at feature-length an even greater classic, The Ventriloquist Dummy segment of the anthology film Dead of Night (1945).
Stage magician Corky (Hopkins) never gained much success until he added Fats, a smart-aleck ventriloquist dummy, to his act.
But Corky's more than a little off his nut, & is soon convinced Fats is the master of the act. He's horrified to discover the dummy is a sociopath capable of dominating Corky's life & actions.
Corky is rather a sweet guy, but only able to overcome shyness through this alter ego, so is as much reliant upon as he is frightened of Fats' power. We the viewers may wait expectantly but in vain for absolute proof that Fats really is alive. Those of us who love the supernatural may cling to the possibility that he's for real, but it's vastly more likely Corky's a complete nutter. .
We perceive Fats mostly through Corky's eyes, & he certainly does seem menacing, while Corky is clearly a victim, whether of the supernatural or his own madness scarsely matters, either way he exudes pathos.
I saw Magic the first time at a United Artists Cinema in Seattle, on a really huge screen such as nowadays very few filmgoers ever experience, most such theaters having been turned into multiplexes with comparatively tiny screens.
In 1978, enormous screens were already losing their audiences, & this once-state-of-the-art theater had fallen into considerable neglect, pulling in only a small ghetto audience.
I wasn't the only white girl in the audience, but close to it, & it was truly some experience to watch such a film with an audience that continuously talked back to the screen & got shit-kickin' scared.
Seeing it again decades later, it is still effective, though I'll never be able to experience it without remembrance of that first time when the audience continuously acted out their extreme responses & seeming belief that Fats was one bad-ass dummy.
Corky needs to get away from it all, so heads off to a friend's mountain cabin. His friend Peggy (Ann-Margaret) is someone he had a shy lad's crush on when they were in their highschool.
Despite that she's married, it begins to look like he may have a chance with her after all, the marriage going sour.
Alas, Fats isn't going to let that happen. And to protect Corky's "secret" that he can no longer function in the absence of Fats, deaths will happen, with the suspense rising to a crescendo.
Unlike Hannibal the Cannibal, Corky's always vulnerable, shy, sad, set-upon, abused. That he's really only talking to himself makes it sadder.
The level of acting makes it a phenomenal film, & Hopkins is the equal of that other Anthony -- Anthony Perkins in Hitchock's Psycho (1960) -- at creating a dual-personality, one endearingly weird, one dangerous to extreme, both himself.
The future "Sir" Anthony does the voice of Corky himself. From an actorly perspective, it's a damned good thing Hopkins really is giving life to Fats, rather than relying on some dubbed-in vocal specialist. For Fats really steals the show, as every ounce of personality Corky lacks or suppresses, Fats magnifies.
A sleeper hit in its day, it's inexplicable that Magic isn't today better remembered than is the case, as it really has withstood the test of time.
Diabolical Ventriloquist Dummies on tv anthologies
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