A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Carnival of Souls

June 1, 2011

Carnival of Souls

This is in our collection because I couldn’t resist buying the limited edition signed by Michael Nelson. I bought it for his commentary track, but I actually respect it as a movie and awful lot. It doesn’t really deserve the derision that an association with MST3K (however tenuous) might imply. As I write this review I am somewhat reminded of my April Fool’s Day review for Manos. I reviewed Manos as the movie that I think the film makers wanted to make, but most of what I said then actually does apply to this movie.

This is one of the shortest movies in our collection (we watched it tonight because we were flipping back and forth to local tornado warnings and wanted to be able to evacuate quickly to our basement if we had to) and the plot is remarkably simple. Young organist Mary Henry is the only survivor of a tragic car accident. When she and some friends while out one afternoon have an ill advised drag race with some guys in a car they plunge off a bridge and into icy water. Three hours later rescue crews find Mary staggering onto land. She quickly picks up her life as though nothing had happened and drives to Salt Lake City, Utah where she gets a job as an organist in a quaint church.

Things are slightly off for Mary though. She has trouble forming friendships with people in her new home. She keeps seeing a mysterious pale man who seems to be following her and watching her. She becomes obsessed with an abandoned vacation spot. There’s something disturbingly off about her life and in addition to her mysterious stalker she also has these odd moments where she becomes strangely disconnected from the world, unable to interact with people at all.

What impresses me most about this movie is how effective it is at making the most of its micro budget. For example: this movie has one of those clear signs of an under-budgeted film from the sixties – it has missing audio on huge sections of the movie. In some of my favorite MST episodes, like Creeping Terror or Beast of Yucca Flats, the lack of a soundtrack results in hilarious work arounds. Creeping Terror has a narrator who explains what dialog we’re missing as people talk on screen. Hilarious! Beast of Yucca Flats may be the only movie I’ve ever seen where you never see an actor’s lips moving. Roger Corman (infamously bad director of Beast) uses constant tricks like filming the back of actors’ heads or filming from far enough away that we can’t tell that the all-dubbed dialog doesn’t match at all. Carnival of Souls starts out feeling a little Yucca Flatsish – the opening scenes are entirely filled with dialog recorded, poorly, in post production. It doesn’t always sync up with the actor’s mouths. It’s unintentionally funny, but this movie actually USES that detriment.

The scenes where Mary completely loses touch with the world have no soundtrack except for the echoed sound of her own voice and the sound of her shoes on the pavement. It’s creepy and intense and cool and probably wouldn’t have come about in a well funded movie. This movie is full of such creepy and clever moments. When Mary first sees the mysterious man who is haunting her he is outside the passenger window of her moving car. It’s an awesome moment. The abandoned summer spot that she becomes obsessed with and seems called back to is evocative of lost moments in life, and according to the trivia I saw it only cost fifty dollars to film there for a whole week. At every turn this movie takes its very low budget nature and makes it work to improve the psychological impact and the mood of the whole piece.

I also love Candace Hilligoss as Mary. She’s so great at looking out of place and she has a quite disturbing vacant stare that is used to great effect. She has a great character arc as well. At the start of the film Mary is all confidence and strength – a woman so sure of herself that she doesn’t really need anybody else. As the film goes on she becomes more and more desperate to form some human connection (even reaching out to her slimy and greasy neighbour.) When things reach their inevitable conclusion (and I wouldn’t call it a twist so much as a reveal) it becomes clear just why she has been so tortured and disconnected since the accident.

This film is just plain cool. It’s a supernatural psychological thriller filmed for a fraction of a percent of a normal movie budget. It’s an accomplishment in film making and it’s also pretty compelling in its own right. I see from IMDB that that there have been two remakes – one in 1998 and one in 2008. I have to think that somebody missed the point of what makes this movie so great. It’s not a film that could be made better if it just had some better known actors and a bigger budget. It’s a movie that perfectly captures a feeling of disconnection from the world and a film that almost revels in the restrictions that are imposed on it. I will say, however, that I had forgotten before watching this again tonight just how much constant organ music was in it.

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June 1, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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