Carnival of Souls (1962)

Even Mr Honeybone said in his introduction on TVS that he couldn’t make fun of this one, and to be sure public domain B horror doesn’t often make it into the Criterion Collection to receive their lavish treatment. Ignored at the time, it had already acquired quite the cult movie reputation by the time I first saw it back in the mid-90s, and I remember being pleased to find it at the late lamented HomePics at Maroubra Junction (alas that Blockbuster ever bought them out). And yet I was… not exactly blown away by it back then, and tonight I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed either. I can appreciate, I suppose, the backstory of the thing, a director with a history of industrial films and the aspiration to do a fiction feature reminiscent of Bergman and Cocteau but only the budget (supposedly just $30,000) for a cheap horror film, which nonetheless still succeeded in manifesting at least some of Herk Harvey’s higher ideals for it; in this he was helped hugely by Gene Moore’s organ score (probably the best thing about the film) and the use of sound (or rather the absence of it in key scenes). The end result is certainly some distance removed from other films of its ilk from that time. It’s just that the end result also isn’t terribly exciting somehow, probably due at least in part to Harvey’s determination to make narrative drive a secondary consideration behind overall mood and atmosphere; I’ve seen it compared to a Twilight Zone episode and maybe it would’ve worked better in that sort of format.

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