The world of the carnival is an illusion manipulated by the carnies to fleece the suckers. The marks generally deserve what they get, because of their greed, corruption, or just plain stupidity. It’s share and share alike for Frankie (Gary Busey) and Patch (Robbie Robertson).
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I think Roger Ebert said it best: "Carny is bursting with more information about American carnivals than it can contain, surrounding a plot too thin to support it... Inside this movie is a documentary struggling to get out." Not bad by any means, but it's much too meandering in its barely-there plot content, and the last few minutes would have been brilliant in a full-blown horror movie.