Some films are so influential in the future of film making that their originality and subtle yet groundbreaking nature, become somewhat overshadowed by the sheer multitude of movies made that try to recreate or pay homage to a masterpiece,. Boundaries are pushed , taboos get broken and technology moves faster than the chick being chased by the knife wielding maniac, so eventually the primary source ends up paling in comparison.
Not so in the case of Carnival of Souls, for even 49 years on it still stands apart as one of the most brilliantly eerie and intelligent horror films ever made. Influencing such greats as George Romero (who used the same egg white make up FX in Night of the Living Dead six years later), and the always thought provoking David Lynch, it’s clumsy, yet eerie style, manages to raise goose bumps far better than the lazy, kill by numbers nature of the modern age.
Mary Henry is a church organist, who is the only survivor of a car crash in which two of her friends were killed after taking part in a drag race (now I‘m assuming this is what they were doing, but frankly I could have beaten these folk on foot without breaking a sweat, and I can make a pillow look athletic). In a bid to escape the trauma, she moves to a new town, where she is drawn to an old abandoned fairground, and haunted by the spectre of a scary old man. Losing her grip on reality, she decides to go to the fairground and confront her fears, and well, it wouldn’t be a scary movie if she liked what she found now would it?
The camera work is shaky, the acting isn’t Oscar worthy, and the dialogue isn’t giving Shakespeare a run for his money, but Carnival of Souls is one of the most hypnotising and spine chilling films I have ever watched or am likely to again. I can only describe the experience of watching it as being drawn slowly into a nightmare, accompanied by a soundtrack that sometimes makes you feel like you’re going a little insane with the protagonist (but that’s the curse of the church organ I guess ..). You begin the film, a little sceptical (it cant possibly live up to the hype), and unimpressed by the general quality of the sound and visuals and then suddenly, it’s ended, and yet in your mind you’re still right there with Mary and you don’t quite know what to do .. Very disconcerting and extremely damn cool – how many films can you say have had that sort of effect on you?
The film, works on so many levels, and yet is stunningly simplistic and childlike in it’s naivety. Surrealism contrasts starkly with the mundane, and the ripple effect of this one low budget project from an industrial film maker (think those health and safety videos you suffer though at work that make you want to jab pencils in your eyeballs), can be seen in the most celebrated films of the genre.
Simply put, if this film hadn’t been made, horror would be a lot less horrible.
And hey, what’s good enough for Romero and Lynch, is certainly good enough for me!