Thursday, June 03, 2010

Carnival of Souls


Shot for a song by relatively unknown director Herk Harvey and featuring totally unknown actors, Carnival of Souls (1962) is a strangely compelling film that at first comes across as a mediocre B-flick. However, it plants seeds that produce an entirely different result, and despite some of the awkward acting and a few marginal scenes, this is no B-movie. There is a reason this film acquired a cult following and is frequently shown and discussed in university film courses. Very short at only 76 minutes, the story follows a woman who crawls out of a river after the car she is in crashes from a bridge and falls into the water below.


Skipping the plot, the film features a granularity that puts the audience right into 1962. You see the traffic, the car dashboard and radio, the advertising, and the background in a way that truly paints an atmosphere you can almost smell.

Things are not what they seem for this oddly cool yet drawn church organist who, in the most compelling scene of the work, falls into a sort of trance while playing the organ, the music drifting from standard church fare into notes and energies that are anything but. (The music required the use of a theater organ instead of a church organ.) Her hands and fingers, as well as her bare feet, acquire an escalating energy that does not belong in church, and hearing her, the minister rushes in to interrupt, deeply disturbed and shaken. Clearly under duress, he terminates her on the spot. What is that energy and where is it coming from?

She leaves, and we soon learn about the carnival that has been haunting her since she crashed into that river.

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