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.
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
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:
- Alone in a Crowd
- Amusement Park of Doom
- Bad Dreams: One of Mary's visions is revealed to have been a dream near the end.
- The Bad Guy Wins
- Be Careful What You Wish For: See Ineffectual Loner below.
- Big Bad: The Man
- Butt Monkey: John
- Celibate Hero
- Chase Scene
- Cold Open
- 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.
- Dead All Along
- 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.
- Defrosting Ice Queen
- Downer Ending
- The End
- Evil Albino
- Executive Meddling: The distributor cut 5 minutes from the original print to fit advertising - then ran off with the profits from the film.
- Finally Found The Body: How The Reveal is made.
- Foot Focus: The film features several closeups of Mary's bare feet.
- The Grim Reaper: What The Man seems to be.
- Haunted Heroine
- Hazardous Water
- Hollywood Driving
- Ineffectual Loner: Mary until she no longer wants to be alone. This entire movie could arguably be summed up as "being Mary sucks".
- In the End, You Are on Your Own
- Looks Like Cesare: The Man, to some extent
- Mirror Monster
- 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.
- Mr. Exposition: Several examples.
- No Name Given: The Big Bad
- 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.
- One Hit Wonder: Herk Harvey's industrial short production company made only one narrative film, this one, and never did one again.
- Our Ghosts Are Different
- Parental Abandonment: Inverted. Mary refuses to visit her folks after the accident.
- Perpetual Smiler: The Man
- Preacher Man
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: John
- Seinfeld Is Unfunny: Modern audiences will immediately realize Mary is in a Dying Dream or Dead All Along when she stumbles out of the car wreck.
- Silent Antagonist
- 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.
- Sugar and Ice Personality
- Surreal Horror
- Tomato in the Mirror
- Trailers Always Spoil: The original one-sheet for the movie◊ gives away the ending at the bottom, in the middle.
- Twist Ending
- The Undead
- Vindicated by Cable: Joe Bob Briggs and other B-movie aficionados. The documentary Schlock! notes that had Carnival of Souls been a foreign film, it would have been hailed as a True Art Is Angsty masterpiece.
Tropes Present In the Remake That Were Not In The Original: