Friday, October 4, 2013

Film Review: Carnival of Souls

" Carnival of Souls"  **** (out of ****)

Since it is the month of October, as has been tradition, I review horror films in honor of the month as we countdown to Halloween. Today I will discuss a cult classic psychological horror film.

"Carnival of Souls" (1962) is somewhat of a forgotten film with a devoted small following. It is far from a great film. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of people quickly dismiss it as a poorly executed film. I can't deny the film has moments of poorly written dialogue, rough around the edges acting, an at times annoying musical score and extremely cheap production design, not to mention the beginning of the movie is completely out of sync.

But, once we put all these faults aside, what we have here is an interesting psychological story of a traumatized mind. An individual trying to connect to a world in which she feels isolated from. In many ways it is a rather bold piece of American independent filmmaking.

Watching "Carnival of Souls" I was reminded of the French horror classic, "Eyes Without A Face" (1960) directed by Georges Franju. Both movies existed within their own world. What I admire so much about them is they create their own rules and follow their own logic. Within this world created in "Carnival of Souls" everything makes perfect sense and the situation our lead character, Mary Henry (Candance Hilligoss, making her film debut) finds herself in is deeply disturbing and becomes plausible in this world.

Mary was the only survivor of a deadly car accident. She and some friends decided to race another car. The car Mary is in spins out of control and off a bridge. Initially police cannot find the bodies or the car. Then, out of the blue, Mary appears.

Clearly shaken by this incident, Mary leaves the small town she is from to work as a church organist in another small town. Mary believes a change of scenery will do her good. But, as most people can tell you, you can never run away from your problems. And Mary has plenty of problems.

In this new town Mary feels isolated. She is disturbed by visions of zombies coming after her. She frequently falls into spells, where she is unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. When victim to these spells, Mary is invisible to the world. No one can see or hear her and Mary cannot hear the world around her. She is shut off from society. But even when not suffering from these spells, Mary has an anti-social personality.

I can see how a movie such as this may have, in some small way, influenced the Robert Wise psychological horror film, "The Haunting" (1963). If you have seen that movie, it should give you some idea what to expect here.

Today's audience will not be scared watching "Carnival of Souls". We have become too  jaded. Horror films are filled with blood and guts. The violence goes to extreme levels. "Carnival of Souls" is almost too innocent. You have to be in the great mind set to watch this movie and allow it to win you over. The best advice I can give you is to simply follow the movie without resistance. Trust it. Allow yourself to follow the movie's logic. Don't question it. Try not to be turned off by the movie's faults (poor dialogue, cheap production design..ect) and find a way to embrace them. Only then will the movie be able to have an effect on you.