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Director: Fred Olen Ray

USA - 2000

  Hoff! Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!  


Full Moon Pictures is synonymous with bad movies. Their films, for the most part, are fairly entertaining, but usually nothing special. You take a script with an interesting premise and a threadbare plot, toss in either Tim Thomerson or Jeffrey Combs, add a dash of mediocre special effects and VOILA! A Full Moon presentation. As with anything, there are, of course, exceptions. Though I felt Castle Freak was above average, I absolutely loathedIt's the Andrew Borntreger Variety Hour! Killjoy.

Like Full Moon, Fred Olen Ray is also synonymous with bad movies. But despite being cinematically misguided, Fredís efforts are usually entertaining - in a sick, perverse kinda way. Despite having no money, script, actors, or any semblance of talent, Fred has churned out some fairly entertaining flicks over the years. Not exactly classics, but for the time and money spent, not all that bad. While Full Moon, for the most part, seems only interested in churning out movies as fast as the press allows, Fredís endeavors have a little heart. A little soul*. The man loves to make movies, not just money.

In my never-ending quest for cheap-ass DVDs, I came across Sideshow at a local media outlet mega-store that shall go unnamed. The film was produced by Full Moon, but directed by Fred Olen Ray. I was genuinely curious to see the result of this hybrid of filmmaking styles. That, and theIs it soup yet? damn movie was only five bucks! Five bucks!

In the end, unfortunately, it turns out that I didnít get my moneyís worth.

The plot, or semblance thereof.

Tommy wants to get into Melanieís pants. Melanie is quite reluctant, so Tommy sets up a double date in hope of breaking the ice. He sets up his best friend Bobby with Melanieís best friend Jeanie. Bobbyís handicapped brother, Grant, tags along.

The boys are quick to show off their prowess in the field of romance by taking their dates to a carnival. Itís common knowledge that nothing gets women more hot and bothered than toothless carnies with moussed-down mullets.

Anyway, they head to the carnival to spend a fun-filled evening riding the vomit-inducing tilt-a-whirl and getting ripped off at carny games. Sideshow is quick to establish its bevy of trite characters:

Tommy: The good-looking jerk who wants his wicked way with Melanie. Heís one of those amazingly quasi-evil characters that could never exist in real life. Iím not saying bad people donít exist, just not like Tommy. Weíre talking evil in the vein of William Zabka from The Karate Kid. In the course of thirty minutes Tommy shows disdain toI've heard of eyes without a face, but face without a face?ward the handicapped, objectifies numerous women, punches a carny, and manhandles a midget.

OK, so maybe punching a carny isnít all bad, but you get my drift.

Melanie: The ice queen. Likes to be fawned over, but appears to despise men in general; Tommy, in particular.

Jeanie: The ďuglyĒ girl. The way she obsesses about her looks and weight one might surmise she was the most heinous beast since James Doohan in a diaper. The fact of the matter is, Jeanie is fairly attractive. Weíre not talking the absurdity of Sheís All That (i.e. put glasses on a supermodel to create instant dog), but itís frustrating nonetheless. For one thing, it creates aesthetic insecurity for us more impressionable viewers. For another, it insults the viewerís intelligence. You canít just take an attractive person, say their unattractive, and expect us to believe it just because you say so. If you need an unattractive person for a role, then by golly, get someone ugly. I realize that beauty is subjective, but Iím talking universally ugly. Like Maria Ford, for instance.  

Bobby: I expected Bobby to be the hero of the group. At least, thatís how the film portrays him at first. Somewhere in the middle, however, we kinda forget about Bobby. Then suddenly, during the riveting finale, he is once again thrust into the potential hero spotlight; but again, nothing becomes of it. The end draws near, the suspense builds, you expect something heroic to occurÖand zilch! The movie ends with absolutely no resolution. Just an apparent: ďThis isnít going anywhere! Roll the credits!Ē

Grant: Bobbyís handicapped brother. He is also the resident scholar of carnival trivia. Freak shows, rigged games Ė if it has something to do with carnies, Grant has all the gouge. The fact that Grant is confined to a wheelchair doesnít really play a factor until the end. Then suddenly they decide to throw in a last minute plot point about Grantís life-threatening disease which, like the film itself, comes to no real resolution. Or, at most, a very implausible resolution (see below).

Once we get our gaggle of paper-thin characters to the carnival, it takes them approximately ten minutes before they harass a midget. Unfortunately for Our Heroes, said midget happens to be Abbot Graves, proprietor of the titular sideshow.

Do you see where this is going yet?

Sure enough, the crew end up at said sideshow, where they witness such monstrosities as Flannel Face and Digestina (a naked woman who sits in a pool of bile). Actually, I canít recall the real name of Flannel Face, but basically heís jAct, dammit, ACT!ust a hillbilly sporting a talking face on his stomach that sounds like Billy Dee Williams (all while wearing a flannel, of course).

Anyway, they see the show and leave. More film padding ensues, then one by one each teeny bopper is lured back into the tent by Dr. Graves, put into a tall glass tube and turned into a freak that symbolizes their personality. Think of Dr. Graves as a cross between Rod Serling, Ricardo Montalban and Monty Hall.

Sideshow is a film I feel rather apathetic about. Donít get me wrong, itís bad, but I really couldnít work up enough gumption to thoroughly despise it. Iím not sure why. The filmís redeeming qualities are few and far between. Perhaps itís the over-the-top performance of Full Moon staple Phil Fondacaro. Heís usually stuck in bit parts, but takes full advantage of a rare lead role. Fondacaro makes a very convincing carny. I donít know if thatís a good thing or not.

As far as the aforementioned hybrid of styles go, Iím sad to report that Sideshow plays like any other Full Moon feature. It couldíve been directed by any of Full Moonís usual suspects.

What amazes me most is the supporting cast. The listing on the IMDB reads like a whoís who of cinematic crime: Ross Hagen; Richard Gabai; Brinke Stevens; Peter Spellos and, leading the pack, the incomparable Charles Band. Take a gander at this rap sheet! It reminds me of the casting for A Thin Red Line. That is, if they cast A Thin Red Line with the crŤme de la crŤme of Hollywoodís greasy underbelly.  


These are the times of which to cherish...

- Hot teddy bear action! Thrill as Tommy tries again and again and again to win a cheap, sawdust-filled teddy bear for Melanie! You think playing carny games is a blast? Imagine the non-stop excitement of watching someone in a movie play one!

- Instant day! At one point, Grant falls out of his wheelchair and cracks a rib, thus forcing Bobby to run ahead to retrieve the van for their escape. In the five minutes it takes for Bobby to leave and return, it goes from the pitch black of midnight to the overwhelming glare of the noontime sun. If nothing else, at least Fred managed to keep one of this trademarks in Sideshow.

Oh wait, make that two.

- After Jeanie turns up missing, the remainder of the group call the cops. Upon the arrival of The Man, Grant comes up with a brilliant theory that, perhaps, this isnít the first time a girl has come up missing. Now, Iím not sure if he was speaking in general or at this carnival in particular, but either way, heís a moron.

- If I were to sneak up on somebody, I probably wouldnít want the guy in a wheelchair to tag along. Nothing against wheelchairs, but theyíre not exactly stealth.

In the filmís finale, Bobby madly searches for his missing brother. When he finally finds him, Bobby is shocked to discover that Grant has been turned into Beast Boy. Or Beast Man. Or something like that. Anyway, Grant is now a beast capable of running real fast and jumping real high. He also sports a beastly mohawk. Bobby is, of course, a bit perturbed about his brother being turned into a monster, but then Grant rationalizes with him that itís meant to be. So basically, he wasnít happy being confined to a wheelchair, but he is happy to be transformed into a monster? Now granted, the monster is considerably more agile than his former body, but heís locked in a cage thatís barely big enough to walk in! Have I mentioned Grantís a moron?      


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-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman






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                * 1971ís Honey Britches being a rare exception.