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John Llewellyn Moxey
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Mary Henry is enjoying the day by riding around in a car with two friends. When challenged to a drag, the women accept, but are forced off of a bridge. It appears that all are drowned, until Mary, quite some time later, amazingly emerges from the river. After recovering, Mary accepts a job in a new town as a church organist, only to be dogged by a mysterious phantom figure that seems to reside in an old run-down pavilion. It is here that Mary must confront the personal demons of her spiritual insouciance. Written by
Rick Gregory <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to director Herk Harvey, one reel of footage for the film was unfortunately ruined during processing. Harvey said it was a long series of shots that was suppose to take place just before Mary sees the "souls" dancing in the ballroom. In the shots the ghouls were supposed to slowly appear from behind the rotting dock pylons out on the salt flats and slowly walk across the prairie to the ballroom, where they would begin to dance. Sadly, the footage was overexposed during the processing and couldn't be included in the film.. See more »
Camera crew reflected in the boys' car during drag race. See more »
Stunning horror masterpiece that overcomes it limitations
The film is so engaging that you manage to overlook the flaws while you're watching it. Sure some of the acting and editing are below par, but you don't realize that fact until after the film is done. During viewing you get caught up with the story, and Hillgoss' performance. Mary didn't have to be multi-dimension, but Hillgoss' performance makes her so. She is cold, alone, and isolated from the world. She has no friends, and doesn't feel the need for any. Despite the coldness of her character, you feel sympathetic for her and even begin to hope she gets out okay. Due to her lack of companionship, she eventually turns to the chauvinistic man who lives across from her. This is another interesting character, one who obviously lusts for Mary but doesn't know how to express his feelings, and it seems if it wasn't for the censorship at the time, he could've become more fleshed out. As another reviewer noted, he is obviously on the verge of rape and is emotionally abusive.
The story is simple, yet it grabs you by the throat and refuses to give up until the film is over. A woman bizarrely comes out of water three hours after an accident occurred. How did this happen? As she tries to get away as far as possible from the incident, strange events continuously occur and she finds herself drawn mysteriously to an abandoned carnival. Also, a strange specter appears constantly. Is this a human stalking Mary? Or is it something supernatural or of the psyche? No one else can see him. Things continue to get worse and worse, and many times Mary is unable to communicate or hear the people around her, yet strangely it goes back to normal within moments. The film's ending is slightly predictable, but suiting. Something more flashy would've destroyed the feel.
As many have noted, this isn't a technically flawless film. But you get so sucked in by the film it isn't until the ending that you realize some of the flaws. For one the editing isn't the greatest, but you must remember that the crew had an obscenely low budget to work with. It wasn't for lack of talent, it was for lack of resources. Also some of the supporting actors aren't very good, but again the film is so low-budget that it would've been impossible to pay better performers. Did you really expect to see Oscar winners in a b-film anyways? There are several aspects that easily trump the mild flaws. For one, the camera work is incredible, on par with many Hollywood films. The angles of the organ were particularly affecting, and the upward shots of the ghouls gave you the feeling of helplessness that Mary feels. Also, Hillgoss' performance is, as I stated above, very good. She manages to make a cold and isolated character human and sympathetic instead of the cardboard stereotype that haunts most films of the nature. The actor who plays the neighbor isn't the best, but his character is certainly interesting, a perverted peeping tom that if the film had been made ten years later would've surely been more developed. Also, the crudeness of the acting adds to the feel. Due in fact that Hillgoss provides the only good acting in the film, you get the feeling that something isn't right. The lack of development for almost every other character adds to the dreamlike quality. When was the last time you had a nightmare in which the other people involved where fleshed out.
The most impressive aspect is Harvey's direction. He knew how to make something out of absolutely nothing, and it certainly shows. The angles and pacing are some of the film's benefactors. And the dream sequences and sped-up carnival footage are nothing short of breathtaking, showing his masterful Harvey was. It's a shame he never made another film, but than again if you make only one film, why not have it be a masterpiece? "Carnival of Souls" transcends its limitations. It contains no special effects for the most part, and very minimalist makeup. It shows that imagination is what makes a film work, not flashy dynamics and special effects. Due to this, many fans of newer horror films will not appreciate its genius. For fans of cult films and surrealist films will be impressed. The latter camp will be amazed how the film is very avant-garde despite no budget to work with. The film is one of the ultimate cult films. Ignored when it came out, only decades later was it appreciated on its rerelase in 1989. The same thing happened with "Reefer Madness", "Glen or Glenda", and "Spider Baby". That is, in my opinion, is one of the factors that makes a film a cult film, definitely more so than if the film is just a sleeper hit. Even if it didn't have the cult following, this is still a film that must be seen. It never outright scares you, but it gets under your skin. It leaves a lasting impression, and I guarantee you'll not forget it for the rest of your life. (10/10)
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