If you're a fan of the films provided by RHI Entertainment, Genius Products, and/or the SyFy Channel, then you already know what you're in for with a flick like Carny. Obviously unrelated to the 1980 Jodie Foster film of the same name, this new Carny stars video flick stalwart Lou Diamond Philips as a small town lawman who is forced to contend with an evil carnival manager. But more specifically, he's forced to contend with the evil carnival manager's bloodthirsty "Jersey Devil" beast, which has just escaped its cage and loves nothing more than eating small town idiots.
For all its cheap silliness and ridiculously familiar trappings, Carny is no better or worse than most of its "Maneater Series" ilk. Then again, when you're talking about a DVD franchise that includes titles like Blood Monkey, Grizzly Rage, Shark Swarm, aland Sand Serpents ... I guess the bar's not being lifted all that high. What Carny has in its corner is this: a stoic Lou Diamond Philips doing his b-movie best, a handful of really interesting "freaks" that go nowhere fast but do manage to add a little weirdness to a rather dry affair (plus the latex effects aren't half bad); frequent attacks from the gargoyle-ish monster; and one of the evilest bastards to ever manage a carnival.
Seriously, the carnival barker known as Cap (played with oily malevolence by Alan C. Peterson) is so sleazy, manipulative, and hateful, he manages to upstage the carnivorous monster in virtually every scene. (Perhaps that's why the producers ended up calling the flick Carny instead of Jersey Devil Mania or Hungry Gargoyle Attacks!) The plot, the setting, the side characters, and even (most of) the kills are basic and predictable, but when Philips, Peterson, or that rotten CGI gargoyle takes center stage, Carny (at the very least) avoids being boring.
At least director Sheldon Wilson (Screamers: The Hunting) keeps everything moving along quickly. Whether it's the frequently silly dialogue, the methodically familiar "monster run amok" concept, or the few small dashes of unexpected wit or carnage ... let's just say it's not the lamest monster movie you could spend 88 minutes with on a late Saturday afternoon.