Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another Great Old Movie

The wonders of Netflix continue. This time I saw a creepy little movie from 1962 called Carnival of Souls. The movie starts out with a young college student named Mary and her friends drag racing another car. When the two cars find themselves on a too-narrow bridge, the unfortunate young women end up going over the side. The authorities quickly start their search, but the river's flooding and muddy waters prevent them from finding the car. However, after about three hours Mary is found crawling out of the river, unable to remember how she escaped the car.

Wanting to leave the tragedy behind, Mary takes a job as an organist in a Salt Lake City church (oddly enough, given the setting, it's not an LDS church). While driving to Utah, she sees a cadaverous-looking man standing next to her window. This is especially creepy considering that she's driving along the highway, while he appears to be standing immediately next to the window. The man disappears only to reappear in the middle of the highway later on in the drive. Mary swerves to miss him, just to find that he's disappeared again.

Mary arrives in Salt Lake City and begins her organist job. Not only does she keep having odd and disturbing visions of the man, but she also finds herself inexplicably drawn to an abandoned carnival (the real-life Saltair Palace, which had been in disuse for several years by this point). During one particularly memorable scene, Mary drifts off into a spell while practicing the organ. She has a vision of the man and multiple couples (none of which appear to be alive) dancing at the carnival. During this spell, the church music she had been playing drifts into a sinister carnival theme. It's clear that the carnival-and the man-are calling to her.

I won't give away the rest of the plot except to say that the movie's twist ending appears to have been inspired by "The Hitch-Hiker"; an episode of  The Twilight Zone from 1960. However, the titular Hitch-hiker didn't seem remotely threatening except for the fact that the woman making the drive can't seem to avoid him; no matter how far she drives, he's always a short distance down the road, trying to thumb a ride. The man in Carnival of Souls is most definitely frightening; his pale skin, darkened eyes, and black suit suggest nothing so much as a reanimated corpse.

Just like with the other classic films I've mentioned on this blog, most modern viewers will find the movie's pacing slow. For those who enjoy older movies, or the occasional episode of The Twilight Zone, Carnival of Souls is definitely one to see.

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