Sunday, February 7, 2010

Carnival of Souls Review: the Sleep Deprived Edition

I went to bed at 4 am this morning, and was up just before 9 am. I convinced myself that some perv had been in my black as, uh, night, yard, watching me masturbate (hey, it's my house; I can touch myself in it all I want). So every time I heard anything I was convinced some psycho was in my house, waiting for me to fall asleep so s/he/it could butcher me and use my tits as a frighteningly realistic t-shirt. What I'm taking too long and sharing too much to tell you is that this may not be the most lucid movie review of my personal catalog. There will also be SPOILERS. You were warned!

This is a gorgeous poster; I plan on some day having a copy. Word of note, however: at no point does Candace Hilligoss dress up in what appears to be a Romanian peasant girl costume barely held over her nipples with double sided tape. And I'm pretty sure she wears a bra through the whole film; hope I didn't ruin anything for you.

This is a spooky little movie, unquestionably. I'd seen it once before, but it had been so long that I needed a refresher to realize this really is a quiet little gem, waiting to be watched. This movie was shot for 17,000$, and even in 1962 that's a pretty piddling amount. This movie used its resources wisely, and went for style and atmosphere over flash; ultimately a brilliant choice.

In its basic form, this movie it a ghost story. A woman, Mary (Candace Hilligoss, who is amazingly beautiful), is in a violent car accident that results in the whole car she's in being swept off of the bridge it's on, and into a flood-staged river below. For several hours a retrieval squad drags the river, trying to pull the car up, but the water is too wild and high; discouragement is setting in, rapidly. To the group's surprise, a figure is seen straggling out of the river: Mary has emerged, but is disoriented and uncommunicative. There is no sign of the other two young women.

Feel for this woman; that water looked cold.

Showing early on how strong her force of will is, as well as how cold and abrupt she comes off to others, Mary is stubbornly insisting she's fine the day after her accident. She has a job waiting for her as a church organist, in Utah; apparently in the 1960's you could go to college for organ playing. At my campus all of the organ playing appears to be extracurricular. (C'mon, you'd have been disappointed if I hadn't put in a wang joke, and you know it.) Phallic puns aside, it's nice to know that in Kansas in the early 1960's you could be young, blond, and pretty, and major in Old Lady. Seriously; have you ever seen a church organist under the age of 110? So off Mary goes, and her personal haunting begins in the drive down.

This place was moderately creepy even when it was in use and not a salt-caked wreck.

Two images become iconic almost simultaneously: the Pale Man (played by the director, Herk Harvey, with frightening proficiency), and the ruined pavilion Saltair, next to the Great Salt Lake. At some point I am going to do a blog entry solely based around this ruin; this movie has one of the best uses of a pre-existing locale ever. This place was a marvelous husk (sadly the version in this movie was burned down in the 1970's. It's been abandoned, destroyed, and rebuilt so many times it seems like it's got its own ghosts to contend with). Apparently the existence of this quiet ruin is the whole purpose that this movie ever got made-- Herk Harvey, who did educational shorts for the extent of his career save for this diversion, was location scouting and found the place. Something about it drew at him, and he collaborated with another Centron employee, John Clifford, who wrote the screenplay.

Want to see this leering at you in the middle of the night? Yeah, neither did Mary.

Through the extent of the film we see how Mary's world is getting stranger and stranger, more disconnected from everyone else around her. More and more often she's seeing the Pale Man. He is pursuing her with an obsession that is disease-like; his presence in her life is tainting everything around her, sickening the tiny, isolated world she lives in. More and more she sees images of a dance of the Dead, out in the ruined pavilion, and frequently the Pale Man's dance partner in this frenetic whirl under the decayed decorations is Mary herself.

There is no happy ending here: the Pale Man and the other dancers eventually do catch Mary, and sweep her away as she screams. The next morning officials are commenting that her car is abandoned there at the ruins, and you can see in the sand where she ran and fell, but no other footprints. Where she fell is where she disappeared. Then the final shot cuts back up to Kansas, where the strange, solitary woman was originally from. After all this the car has been found, and the recovery men are in the process of winching it out of the water. There are three women in the car; Mary is one of them. A ghost, haunting even herself.

I also want to take a moment, and appoint some form of award for what has got to be THE sleaziest character in the whole of cinema: Mary's neighbor, John Linden. Seriously, this guy is SO skeevy he seems to leave a palpable haze of scum on the film itself. The man peeps-- and gets all hot and bothered when he sees Mary, clad in a towel the size of a queen bed sheet, put on her old lady frumpy robe, and then drop the towel. You literally see no more of her than the back of her neck, but by gum, that lady's NEKKID under that robe that goes to her calves!

This man probably has the words "date rape" on his body, formed there from birth, much like Damien's 666 in The Omen.

If only he'd had internet porn; then he could have been a creepy shut in spanking it to guro and bestiality pokemon fanfiction instead of trying to molest poor, confused dead girls.

I have no idea why this is creepy, but it really, really is.

Herk Harvey, as I said, did educational shorts; this was his only foray into feature film making.That's too bad, because this one example is truly a classic. Many of his shorts, however, were soundly mocked by Joel, Mike, and the 'Bots on MST3K. Talk about career extremes, both of them wonderful, in my opinion!

My final note is this: there was a loose remake of this made in 1998. While the actors were all solid, this movie is absolute CRAP and should be avoided at all costs. AT ALL COSTS. AVOID AVOID AVOID.

Over all, this is a beautiful, eerie movie, and you should do yourself a favor and see it if you've not had a chance before. It's in the public domain so I'm sure there are a million places online to see it, so seek it out.

See? That wasn't so bad! Started out with masturbation, ended with a recommend! We all win!


A Cinematic Slice of Cheese said...

I love this film!

Stac said...

Isn't it great? So much more than the sum of its parts!

Little Man From Another Place said...

A masterpiece of moviemaking!

2D23Dconversions said...

I'm currently converting Carnival of Souls to 3D...see my blog for further info.