October 27, 2012

Carnival of Souls (1962)

"After a traumatic accident, a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival."

I don't own any Criterion DVDs because I find them overpriced and don't really have much interest in their selection. If I were to buy one, however, it would be "Carnival of Souls" even though it's in the public domain and I have at least six copies of it in budget multi-packs already.

The reason I would buy "Carnival of Souls" again is the transfer. All the public domain versions are pretty horrible including the one on my YouTube channel which I've embedded above. If Criterion are to be respected for anything, it's that they nearly always find the best print available. There have been exceptions to the rule, but that's another story.

Make no mistake about it, "Carnival of Souls" is hardly the usual pretentious "arthouse" weirdness that Criterion are best known for. Apart from the innovative titles and a few surreal scenes which might indicate otherwise, "Carnival of Souls" is little more than a feature length version of a Twilight Zone episode called "The Hitch Hiker" (which in turn was based on an Orson Welles radio play from 1946). Allegedly, Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge" may have also been an inspiration for the story, but I've never read it and don't know.

Despite the unoriginality which most people wouldn't notice anyway, "Carnival of Souls" has a lot going for it especially in terms of atmosphere, a funereal organ music soundtrack, and, obviously, one of the most beautiful women to ever appear in a horror movie - Candace Hilligoss.

If the picture of her above isn't enough to get you to endure some old black and white nonsense then there's no hope for you. As Mary Henry, Candace Hilligoss may play one of the most frigid 1960s' horror heroines you ever encounter, but you can't deny that she's gorgeous.

The pushy John Linden (played by Sidney Berger) is certainly enamoured by Mary Henry. At first, Mary does precious little to encourage John's bad chat-up lines, and his drunken, predatory advances become increasingly loaded with menace and potential rapeyness.

These scenes are quite complex in some ways and very uncomfortable to watch. As they develop, there's actually only one way of describing Mary Henry, and it consists of two words ending in "tease". Although there's more to her actions than that, the whole relationship between Mary and John highlights a couple of very damaged individuals indeed, and that's the point. Even if everything was right in the world, they would hardly be a match made in heaven.

For 90% of the film, "Carnival of Souls" bumbles along quite nicely as what appears to be the psychological study of a schizoid personality disorder. It's suggested that because Mary is strong-willed and solitary by nature, her symptoms of depersonalisation and derealisation are the inevitable result. As things get progressively worse, there's a twist which I'm not going to spoil for you.

If you've never seen "Carnival of Souls" before, now is your chance. It's a creepy enough movie at any time of year, but it's especially good at Hallowe'en given what Hallowe'en is really supposed to be about.

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