Film: Carnival of Souls

"What happened to the others? How did she escape? She doesn't know. Indeed, she doesn't care. She's a brittle, cynical woman who works as a church organist but doesn't take religion seriously. That's despite the fact that the organ seems to be trying to tell her something. There is a sensational overhead shot in an organ factory, looking down past the steep and angled pipes to her diminutive figure far below, and another effective moment when she's in a car on a deserted highway and the radio only picks up organ music."

Carnival of Souls was a low-budget "B" film ($33,000 in 1962) that did mediocre business on release, but has become enough of a Cult Classic to merit a DVD release by The Criterion Collection. In fact, some people consider it to be the best "B" movie ever made. George Romero stated that Carnival of Souls was the inspiration for Night of the Living Dead (1968).

The plot is hard to summarize without spoilers, but its essence is a young woman who perceives, with gradually increasing frequency, images of a horrid, deformed stranger (as, for example, a temporary appearance in a mirror). The screw tightens until, at the climax, we find out who The Man is and why she has been receiving these visitations.

The movie is a case of an obscenely high-number of routine, standard tropes that more or less accidentally happen to work to a whole greater than the sum of the parts (or of the makers' designs and—arguably—capabilities).

Along with a handful of other films, it also has the distinction of being riffed twice by Mike Nelson: First on the colorized DVD released by Legend Films, the second time with help from Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett on RiffTrax.

In 1998, a Wes Craven-produced remake was released, which received mixed, mostly-negative reviews. While it, too, is available on DVD, it's a pretty safe bet that it won't ever get a Criterion release.

The Original Contains Examples of:

  • Bad Dreams: One of Mary's visions is revealed to have been a dream near the end.
  • Creator Cameo: The main ghoul, The Man, is Herk Harvey.
  • Dances and Balls: Part of the Carnival's backstory. Played for Horror later on in the main story.
  • The Dead Can Dance: Mary spies a danse macabre in the carnival tent.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mary when she has coffee with John. This part honestly plays more like a period sit-com than a horror movie.
  • Ineffectual Loner: Mary until she no longer wants to be alone. This entire movie could arguably be summed up as "being Mary sucks".
  • Motifs: Water is either present or referenced to in a lot of the scary stuff which makes sense given the opening and the Twist Ending. It's inconsistent though as some of The Man's apperances have nothing to do with water.
    • The soundtrack is mostly pipe organs, which is what Mary's job is - church organ player.
  • Oh Crap!: An oddly-delayed version of this occurs during the second visit to the psychologist.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: If you love this sort of thing, Carnival of Souls will be your dream movie; if you hate it, steer clear.
  • Slasher Smile: The Man is almost always like this, but the other Undead only break into a smile near the end.
  • Stalker with a Crush: John, as well as a possible way to interpret The Man.

Tropes Present In the Remake That Were Not In The Original:

  • Bittersweet Ending: More-or-less the same ending as the original, but with a more uplifting and heroic twist. Alex is revealed to have died in the opening, but, in doing so, had managed to defeat the Big Bad, thus ensuring her little sister's survival.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The reason Alex's car crashed in the beginning is that she was trying to pull off one of these, in the end, it turned out she succeeded.
  • Taking You with Me: In the opening, Alex deliberately steers her car off the road so that the paedophile who is holding her hostage won't be able to kill her sister. She ends up surviving until the end, where it turns out that everything after the crash was just a dying dream.