Oh my goodness, late night last night. And Early morning today. About to run out for breakfast and then it’s off to the West Hollywood Book Fair. The book fair is awesome, if you’re in LA you should check it out. My plan is to check out a friend’s panel and then wander around for a while, maybe buy some books. Yay books! Reading is fun!
Anyway, here’s today’s post. Carnival of Souls. A quick disclaimer before I leave you to it. I like this movie, I really do. I just couldn’t quite make up my mind what to say about it. So I feel like I ended up going back and forth and maybe making it sound like I don’t like it. But I do. So you know.
Here it is! Day 2! Carnival of Souls.
Carnival of Souls – USA, 1962. Dir. Herk Harvey. Starring Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, and Sidney Berger.
Carnival of Souls is something of a cult classic. What am I saying? It is a cult classic. It’s also an odd movie. It frequently walks the line between cheesy B-Horror and genuine creepiness. It never fully explains itself. What is really going on in that small Utah town? Why is that carnival in the desert so menacing?
I’m not really sure.
When I say I’m not sure, I don’t mean that I don’t understand what happens in the story. There’s a twist at the end and that I get. I get that point. What I don’t understand is how it all works. It’s surreal.
In the beginning of the film, our heroine Mary walks away from a deadly car accident. When asked, she can’t remember or explain how she escaped. From that point on, the people she encounters repeatedly describe her as “odd” or “different.” She has no desire to connect to other people. She has no real desires at all.
After the accident, she travels to a small town in the Utah where has accepted a job playing the organ in the local church. As she approaches the town late at night, she passes a mysterious structure in the desert, strange organ music plays through her radio, and, wait for it, WHY IS THERE A FACE STARING AT HER THROUGH THE WINDOW????
I have to admit, that face creeps me the f’ out. I mean, she’s driving a car. On a highway. She’s got to be going at least 50 or 60 mph. AND THERE IS A FACE IN HER WINDOW. That’s not normal.
Regardless of how cheesy the rest of the movie may be, I feel like this is the mark of a successful horror film. I may not be all that scared while I’m watching, but that face has stayed with me for literally years. I have spent a lot of time driving around, by myself, on empty highways at night. And still, I find myself reluctant to turn to my right, to look out that passenger window. Because what if I see someone looking back?
B-movie it may be, but this is a movie that’s gotten under my skin.
After she arrives in the town, she keeps seeing this mysterious, super creepy man stalking her around everywhere. Which should elicit some kind of reaction out of the audience. I’m not sure that it does though. There’s one scene in the boarding house when the man is slowly stalking Mary up the stairs, the only sound is the tread of his footfalls approaching her door, that is genuinely tense. The rest of it though… the rest is so confusing that it’s hard to stay engaged.
Not much of this movie is really all that scary while it’s happening. It’s weird, it’s surreal, it’s confusing. A big problem it has though is that the characters aren’t really all that relateable or even likeable. Mary is rude, her character is so detached from everyone around her that the detachment extends to the audience. It’s difficult to care about her. The other characters are flat. Well, everyone other than her neighbor. He’s just a perv.
Seriously, he peeps on her through the door as she’s getting dressed and then exclaims that she “has the wrong idea” about him after she repeatedly resists his advances. He’s so uncomfortably aggressive. I do have to admit that the scene when he brings her coffee is hilarious. They sit awkwardly close on her couch as he first tries to offer her liquor in her morning coffee and then tries to impress her with his intellect. Um, the intellectic of an alcoholic warehouse worker more interested in booze and dames than Principle Products. What is he talking about??? Something to do with Brazil and coffee beans…
Then of course he later runs away when she gets crazy. Because she saw the creepy dead man nuzzling her neck in the mirror. Um. I would probably freak out if I saw something like that too.
Actually, I would have been freaking out much earlier than Mary does. Her reaction, or lack thereof, is a big part of why this film is not nearly as successful as it could be.
The story is great, the mysterious man is straight up What the Shit?, and even the music is weird and unsettling. What it comes down to though, is that there is just no tension. It doesn’t build, there are only maybe one or two “edge of your seat” moments, and maybe a couple of jump out at you scares.
I don’t know, I’m really on the fence about this movie. I like it, I do, I just wish it was a little bit more. There are so many things it does so well – it’s atmospheric, the organ music is evocative, the climax is surreal.
I also love the scene when Mary plays the organ alone in the church after she’s started to finally freak out. She suddenly starts playing this orgasmic carnival music. The shots of her playing are juxtaposed with images of a dance of the dead taking place in the abandoned carnival. It’s beautiful and eerie and weird. It’s scene like this that make this movie stay with you.
Taken in the context of B-movie, cult classic films, Carnival of Souls is entertaining and eerie. It’s also silly and creepy but not really scary.
Cheesiness aside, I like this movie. I really do.