63 Carnival of Souls

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Orlac
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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#51 Post by Orlac » Thu Jul 28, 2016 5:14 am

There is a weird shot on the BD, at 46:00 when Mary explores Saltaire and we get an overhead shot, where a ragged black bar takes up the top quarter of the screen. It's not on the Legend director's cut, but that is zoomed in for that shot. Anyone know what this is? It's a film artefact of some sorts.

I should clarify this isn't a complaint, i'm just curious. This is a superb disc!

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colinr0380
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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#52 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Sep 05, 2016 12:23 pm

I was surprised to find on watching the film again that I had been completely missing the beautiful, mirroring way that Carnival of Souls is structured. We get the bookend scenes of ghostly interdimensional travelling into and out from the town, but then we get two big segments of repeated locations with similar scenes playing out in a lighter and darker register.

In terms of the ‘lighter’ register (though there are spooky goings on in both sections it is more that the spooks can be lived with in the first group of scenes, rather than died with as in the second) after Mary’s night journey we move into the introduction to her new job as church organist with her new priest employer delighted with her playing. Then we get the safe guided tour (though only as far as the laws of society allow!) of the Saltair Pavilion by the priest. Following that we get introduced to the landlady, the boarding house and the neighbour who will not take no for an answer (at least in this section!). Then the first of the urban-set sound drop out sections of alienation from the surrounding crowds, from which Mary is pulled back by the magic tree and the comforting intervention of the psychiatrist, who takes her back to his, incongruous but somehow perfectly apt for this film, stage-set of an office. That empowers Mary to make her first solitary expedition to the Saltair Pavilion, and she wanders around the dilapidated ruins of past lives as if to confirm that only shadows remain.

This section feels like Mary is being relatively successful at confronting her trauma, and while there is no escape from a future confrontation, at least at this point she can still repress her fears. She also has a support network around her who provide societal stability. A job (a meaning to life), a romance (albeit with a lech!), a room to live in and all the hot baths you want (even if the landlady has her suspicions that you are a screwball!), all the trappings of a consumer society (even if the shop assistant, later paralleled by the ticket office, ignores your desperate pleas to spend your money with them!), the kindly psychiatrist there to help with your problems and give you peace of mind (even if it is a little suspicious that he appears to be wandering the streets to drum up semi-willing customers who suffer psychological breakdowns in parks!), the abandoned pavilion is just an abandoned building (albeit a crazily architectured, overly elaborate, deranged funhouse-cum-ballroom which seemingly was never fit for purpose!)

There is a stability there, but everything is already going slightly wonky. At the very start of this Mary is the one adding the unstable element (“Thank you, but I’m never coming back”, refusing the welcome party from her employers, rebuffing advances and disconcerting her landlady) and there is a sense that the film at first is in the register of those 1950s films psychologically profiling the anxieties of their characters (Twelve O’Clock High, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, High Noon and so on. Basically all those film in Peter Biskind’s Seeing Is Believing book!). Once Mary confronts her fears, visits the spooky location and sees that it is empty, she can move on right?

Nope, the second ‘darker’ section repeats all these scenes but in a steadily more anxious register, ripping even the small and imperfect comforts away. The walk around the pavilion has perhaps implanted evocative images in Mary’s mind. The earlier guided tour of the pavilion becomes a dream sequence again entering forbidden areas of the building, now populated by ghosts. Mary literally seems to become possessed by her dreamstate and the comforting organ music turns mocking and atonal. The comfort provided by the church is lost as the disconcerted priest sees the music as a kind of mockery. The boarding house and ‘romance’ becomes coercive and the hot baths a pretext for more lechery (with, as mentioned in the extras, the organ score turning saxophone sleazy for a moment!), which Mary tries to play along with until her pleas for company disconcert even someone who wanted to be with her up until that point! Real need for contact suddenly makes the young man nervous himself.

Mary eventually flees to anywhere else. But ends up trapped in the urban jungle again, though in addition to simply being ignored people are actively penning her in and preventing her escape. Then on returning to the psychiatrist’s office even he has metamorphosed, leading to a great fourth wall breaking scramble for escape.

But it all ends up back at the Pavilion, at first still uninhabited but eventually populated by ghosts beckoning Mary back whether she wants to go or not (the ending of Videodrome feels as if it is in this tradition too – all in the mind or a new reality? It perhaps doesn’t matter at this terminal point)

These two blocks of scenes feel intentional mirrors. There’s a swift and bleak descent in this second run through of the locations, as the film moves from seeming to suggest Mary is at fault to Mary being failed by all the institutions that should be there to provide comfort and solace, and a reason for being. It also feels much more aggressively toned and personally focused as the end approaches and cannot be avoided.

Then there are the bookends of bemused authority figures able to do little more than survey the aftermath or look on with sad resignation at the inevitable but unspoken full stop of life, that is hidden beneath the surface and only dredged back up with caution.
___

I really enjoyed the extra features on this new edition. I have not watched the Centron films yet (or compared what is and is not there from the previous edition) but the Dana Gould interview was fantastic. I liked the comment about comparing the night drive to Psycho (though Psycho came out two years before Carnival of Souls, not the same year as suggested) and it made me think the final image of the car being pulled from the river is also influenced by Psycho’s final shot. On the relationship with the fantastic Night of the Living Dead, this reminded me that George Romero did a shot that feels like a homage to the ghouls appearing out of the water in Carnival of Souls in the river crossing sequence of Land of the Dead!

I also particularly liked the 1960s piece on the history of the Saltair resort. This is probably just my reading too much into it but a couple of those images of voiceover reminiscences playing over images of overgrown train tracks leading off to the pavilion silhouetted in the distance felt almost as if they could have come straight out of Shoah.

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colinr0380
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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#53 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Sep 23, 2016 7:34 am

I did a brief comparison of the Centron Films section of the Blu-ray with the old DVD last night. It's pretty complicated with some gains and some losses (basically keep the original DVD if you want absolutely everything released so far). Here's the findings:

Ken Smith's Mental Hygiene essay on Centron is presented as text screens on the DVD whilst being read by Dana Gould over a static screen on the Blu-ray. The text essay format on the DVD has the added benefit of also interspersing screens featuring images from the films being mentioned, which is sadly completely gone on the Blu-ray version. On the other hand it is great to hear Dana Gould reading the essay and on comparison of the two texts I think Gould might have ad-libbed "...as we all do!" at the end of the "Centron was allowed to die" line!

The Blu-ray carries over Star 34 (starring Herk Harvey himself!), the Centron commercial with the fish-eye lens, To Touch A Child and Signals: Read 'em or Weep from the DVD. Star 34 in particular looks much better on the Blu-ray edition, while To Touch A Child is still pretty faded and magenta-looking. Those films all appeared on the original DVD but the Blu-ray and new edition DVD has added Rebound (1954), about a man who has become blind coming to terms with his new condition and learning to function again with the help of an institution, and Case History of a Sales Meeting (1963) which is sort of a pitch to prospective companies about how Centron will go about marketing your business.

One of the things sadly lost from the DVD are the introductory text screens before each film, which give a little context about each before going into it, and giving some fun titbits of information such as it being the screenwriter and the screenwriter's son who are used for the bookending porch images on To Touch A Child!

The Blu-ray and new DVD edition drops my favourite Centron films from the previous DVD release, though since they are both as magenta as To Touch A Child I wonder if the condition of the films was a factor in the decision not to upgrade them. The two dropped films are the geographical, sociocultural travelogue ones. The first is "Jamaica, Haiti and the Lesser Antilles" (which Criterion's introductory card says was made just after Harvey and crew finished Carnival of Souls, seemingly implying It's All True-style they were perhaps not around to really fight for Carnival of Souls when it was getting cut down and double-bill released initially due to travelling internationally for this project).

Jamaica, Haiti and the Lesser Antilles seems to be excerpted rather than the full thing (though it would seem that the full film, though it briefly namechecks it on the map, pointedly ignores anything to do with 1963-era Cuba!). There are a few fade outs, and a Criterion intertitle, that elide the section about Jamaica (and the Virgin Islands?) completely, while we seem to get the full sections relating to Haiti and Trinidad. (Its a fascinating piece and in a small, entirely personal aside remembering back to first watching this film around a decade ago helped me to get a question on University Challenge about the "Lesser Antilles" right earlier this week! So educational films bizarrely succeeded in educating once again!)

And the other piece is "Korea: Overview - The Face of Korea", which again is extremely faded but remains a nice sociocultural travelogue showing off the culture of the Republic of Korea, plus a couple of fascinating shots of the DMZ!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Nov 08, 2017 4:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#54 Post by djproject » Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:16 am

I would think all the Centron films would still be available through the Prelinger Archives (found through the Internet Archive).

And I've said elsewhere, this is one of those moments where MST3K is in Criterion (there were plenty of times Criterion is in MST3K through their riffs).

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#55 Post by mfunk9786 » Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:23 am

"one of those moments" - it's the only one, isn't it?

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#56 Post by djproject » Sat Sep 24, 2016 6:20 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:"one of those moments" - it's the only one, isn't it?
Criterion has ventured into B movie territory.


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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#57 Post by CSM126 » Sat Sep 24, 2016 6:51 pm

… but the point is that this is the only crossover between Criterion and MST3K.

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Minkin
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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#58 Post by Minkin » Sat Sep 24, 2016 7:20 pm

Not to further derail Colinr's great posts, but
djproject wrote:And I've said elsewhere, this is one of those moments where MST3K is in Criterion (there were plenty of times Criterion is in MST3K through their riffs).
Is one of the Centron shorts featured in an MST3K episode? Otherwise it was Rifftrax, not MST3K who riffed Carnival of Souls. So its not quite as canonized.

I recall that Rifftrax not being very good either, they just spend the whole time complaining about the organ music and how "not scary" everything is. Only the interaction between the creepy roommate was fairly decent.

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#59 Post by Orlac » Sun Sep 25, 2016 12:34 pm

The Mike Nelson solo commentary on the Legend dvd is pretty funny.

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#60 Post by djproject » Mon Sep 26, 2016 9:35 am

Minkin wrote:Is one of the Centron shorts featured in an MST3K episode?
Not one of the ones featured on either DVDs or the Blu.

However, here is the list of the Centron shorts riffed by MST3K:

Cheating
Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance
Speech: Using Your Voice
What About Juvenile Delinquency?
Why Study Industrial Arts?

Herk Harvey appears in the Speech ones and Frances Feist (the landlady who doesn't mind multiple baths) was in the Speech: Using Your Voice, talking about her enthusiasm about flowers.

Interestingly enough, Centron was later bought and subsumed under Coronet Films, who also did industrial shorts and had a few of them mocked by "Joike" and the bots (What to Do on a Date and Are You Ready for Marriage?).

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#61 Post by Orlac » Wed Oct 19, 2016 3:47 pm

The picture on this is a bit odd. I can't seem to get proper blacks or whites on it. For all its digiital superiority, I ended up reverting back to the Legend disc. Am I missing something?

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#62 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Oct 19, 2016 4:05 pm

Considering that it might be the most impressive B&W Blu-ray transfer I own, I'm going to vote in the "yes, you're missing something" column

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#63 Post by matrixschmatrix » Wed Oct 19, 2016 4:51 pm

Minkin wrote:Not to further derail Colinr's great posts, but
djproject wrote:And I've said elsewhere, this is one of those moments where MST3K is in Criterion (there were plenty of times Criterion is in MST3K through their riffs).
Is one of the Centron shorts featured in an MST3K episode? Otherwise it was Rifftrax, not MST3K who riffed Carnival of Souls. So its not quite as canonized.

I recall that Rifftrax not being very good either, they just spend the whole time complaining about the organ music and how "not scary" everything is. Only the interaction between the creepy roommate was fairly decent.
Yeah, I remember a lot of harping on the score- that and the Legend Night of the Living Dead both seemed to be working hard to make fun of a scrappily good movie. They're doing a theatrical Rifftrax of Carnival later this month, which hopefully will improve on that one, though for some reason they're sticking to the ugly colorized version.

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Minkin
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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#64 Post by Minkin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 7:13 pm

Orlac wrote:The picture on this is a bit odd. I can't seem to get proper blacks or whites on it. For all its digiital superiority, I ended up reverting back to the Legend disc. Am I missing something?
Given that you've been complaining about absolutely everything lately, and now somehow think the Legend disc looks superior - I'd wager you have some sort of eye / television problems that are undiagnosed.

As to the Rifftrax version - I wonder at what point they realize that they should probably scrap the episode. If the best humor they can come up with is "What's going on here?" or "hell is all just more of this organ music" - then they're rather scraping the bottom.

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#65 Post by R0lf » Thu Oct 20, 2016 12:55 am

Minkin wrote:
Orlac wrote:I'd wager you have some sort of eye / television problems that are undiagnosed.
(I complained again and again that a local theatre was projecting their movies out of focus shortly before finding out I am short sited.)

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Re: 63 Carnival of Souls

#66 Post by Orlac » Thu Oct 20, 2016 4:18 am

Minkin wrote:
Orlac wrote:The picture on this is a bit odd. I can't seem to get proper blacks or whites on it. For all its digiital superiority, I ended up reverting back to the Legend disc. Am I missing something?
Given that you've been complaining about absolutely everything lately, and now somehow think the Legend disc looks superior - I'd wager you have some sort of eye / television problems that are undiagnosed.

As to the Rifftrax version - I wonder at what point they realize that they should probably scrap the episode. If the best humor they can come up with is "What's going on here?" or "hell is all just more of this organ music" - then they're rather scraping the bottom.
Well, I do have eye problems.

You never heard me complain about Cat People! Because THAT transfer looks fine!

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63 Carnival of Souls

#67 Post by djproject » Wed Dec 07, 2016 10:41 pm

CSM126 wrote:… but the point is that this is the only crossover between Criterion and MST3K.
Actually, I remember there's a brief shot from "Design for Dreaming" (one of the short films riffed ... not at all Centron) as a part of a test film used in The Game.

If you really want to stretch it, Cheryl Smith was in The Swinging Cheerleaders, which was briefly featured in The Thin Blue Line as it was one of the drive-in features Randall Adams and David Harris saw. She was also in The Incredible Melting Man and Laserblast, (the latter was the last MST3K episode aired on Comedy Central).

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Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

#68 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Oct 02, 2017 6:33 am

DISCUSSION ENDS OCTOBER 16th.

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This thread is not spoiler free. This is a discussion thread; you should expect plot points of the individual films under discussion to be discussed openly. See: spoiler rules.

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I encourage members to submit questions, either those designed to elicit discussion and point out interesting things to keep an eye on, or just something you want answered. This will be extremely helpful in getting discussion started. Starting is always the hardest part, all the more so if it's unguided. Questions can be submitted to me via PM.

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Re: Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

#69 Post by zedz » Tue Oct 03, 2017 5:09 pm

So, is this a classic example of people mistaking the Film Club vote for a popularity contest rather than an indication that they actually have something to say about the film they said they wanted to discuss?

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Re: Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

#70 Post by knives » Tue Oct 03, 2017 10:12 pm

Perhaps, I voted for The Uninvited since I think it is actually pretty interesting in the context of the evolution of the haunted house genre with a lot of new things to talk about there. For this film I've kind of warmed up to it, but I still value Harvey more for his educational films which I think pose a more compelling voice because of the difficulties in making them good (John Krish seems to have been in the same boat with his short work significantly more compelling than most of his long stuff). There's a fun spookiness here with a great use of location (not just the famous carnival set either), but not much beyond the key points everyone always hits upon.

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Re: Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

#71 Post by matrixschmatrix » Wed Oct 04, 2017 12:27 am

It's a powerfully affecting mood piece, and one I like very much, but it's a movie I have a hard time thinking of much to say about.

The apparent theme of it appears to be something along the lines of equating being emotionally disconnected- from other people, from ordinary life and ritual, from emotion itself- with being dead. That could feel conformist, but it doesn't, in part because I think Hildegloss's desperation to find connection is very well handled- her instability when she goes out with her creepy loser of a neighbor in particular, but even in the many low-affect scenes of her wandering around, there's a sense that her disconnect is not for want of trying. One could read this as cause and effect- she chose to distance herself in the early scene in the church, an is thus cursed with total distance- but given the point at which her soul appears to have become trapped, I don't think that works, since it seems like her shut-down quality even in that first scene is conditioned by trauma.

I think one could read this as a trauma narrative overall- Hildegloss goes through something that shatters her emotionally, cannot bear the memory of it, becomes dissociative and depressed, and eventually completely loses herself, because whatever else happens, she cannot really escape the trauma- she died in the car, even if she didn't. I think that vibe informs the movie and gives it a feeling of depth and emotional logic, even as I think insisting on that would narrow what I think is ultimately more of a free-floating allegory of slow disconnection.

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Re: Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

#72 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Oct 05, 2017 3:34 am

I wonder if it would be worthwhile seeing Carnival of Souls through the context of educational or instructional films? I think that almost observational style is part of what gives the film its beautifully strange and off-kilter tone, especially early on when Mary is perhaps seen as the most unstable element.

The opening drag race accident of the car going over the side of the bridge feels like something that would come up in a short about the perils of teenagers dangerous driving! A kind of moral pay off climax to teach those reckless kids a lesson! (Which it arguably still is!) But in Carnival of Souls it is placed at the very opening of the film, when we have not met any of the characters as yet. That early scene in the organ factory also feels nicely detailed (more so in the slightly longer director's cut version) and covered as a real, working location (and a unique one) that could be set up in a similar way to how a film preparing to go into the business of how the organs are made would start! There are similar moments in the church itself as Mary plays, which could be the set up for a religious short film!

And the way that a lot of the film feels as if it is taking place 'on location' provides that feeling of capturing 'reality', just adding in (more or less natural in front of the camera!) actors to guide a larger narrative and add the message. Even the over-dubbed feel to a lot of the soundtrack (or moments when the entire sound drops out in the spookier sequences), suggests a film that is being taken from 'reality' and transformed into a fictional piece with almost a moral dimension. Don't find yourself in the same situation that Mary gets into, kids!

Even the one obviously set-based scene in the Psychiatrist's office sort of fits into an educational film context of someone like an expert or doctor suggested to be existing safely outside of the events we are watching and able to take a dispassionate outsider's view on the problem. The comfort of which of course gets spectacularly broken late on!

I'm not sure that is a particularly conscious choice on the part of the filmmakers, but I do think it could be seen as an interesting example of a group of filmmakers with aesthetics and mannerisms fostered on one particular type of film applying the same to a fictional feature. And an existential horror one at that where, contrary to educational or industrial films, there's no really easy solution to a problem able to be offfered!
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Re: Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

#73 Post by Satori » Thu Oct 05, 2017 7:37 am

For me, the film works best as a portrait of a woman who doesn’t fit into this world. Mary is clearly an introvert, at one point telling the doctor that she has “no desire for the close company of other people.” Indeed, the film is largely structured around people trying to draw her out and make her act more “normal”: the minister wants to throw a party introducing her to the congregation, telling her “you cannot live isolation from the human race,” the doctor asks her why she doesn’t have a boyfriend, and her neighbor forces his way into her life and eventually guilts her into going on a date with him.

So I don’t read the film as a portrait of loneliness; I think it is about how society tries to impose a compulsory sociability on introverts who might be perfectly comfortable alone. When she cries out that she doesn’t want to be alone near the end of the film, this is because of fear—her hallucinations of the zombie figure—rather than loneliness. The moments in which she expresses a desire for company aren’t incompatible with this reading: introverts don’t always want to be alone, but do want some control over their social interactions, especially with strangers. Much more frequent are the moments in the film in which she does want to be alone and others make demands on her time, trying to force sociability on her.

The film is also a remarkable representation of how men think that women owe them their attention and time. The pushy neighbor is essentially a predator who barges his way into her apartment, even when she asks him to leave her alone, and then uses her fear about her hallucinations to try and manipulate her to go to bed with him. The close-ups of the neighbor’s eye as he watches her change through the cracked door are every bit as creepy as Norman Bates looking through the peephole at Marion. Later, there is a shot of them together on the couch, him crowding her space as she cowers back into the armrest.

The minister, doctor, and neighbor all embody different discourses of normalization: religion, medicine, and compulsory heterosexual romance. I think the film supports a queer reading: Mary is not interested in dating (she tells the doctor this explicitly), perhaps because she’s gay or, more likely, because she’s asexual. This reading is suggestive because the film enacts the ways in which religion, medicine, and compulsory heterosexuality all put pressure on queer people to conform.

So far I’ve bracketed the hallucinations and horror elements. I think it’s suggestive that all three of the men are connected with the zombie-phantom who she hallucinated repeatedly. When she goes into the trance playing the church organ, she imagines the zombie creeping up behind her before the film cuts to the minister behind her, outraged at the demonic music she has been channeling. When she imagines herself in the doctor’s office the second time, the chair turns around and she realizes she’s been talking to the zombie. When the neighbor has forced his way into her apartment, she sees the zombie in the mirror where he is standing.

There is a sense, then, that the zombie man is a displaced manifestation of these pressures put upon her to conform.

Because she cannot—or does not want to—fit into the normal world, she begins moving toward another one embodied by the abandoned carnival. In this respect the film reminds me of two of my favorite horror auteurs, Val Lewton and Jean Rollin, whose films also often center on women who are not suited to this world. Irena in Cat People, young Amy in Curse of the Cat People, Jacqueline in The Seventh Victim, the female protagonist in Rollin’s Iron Rose or almost any of the female vampires throughout Rollin’s work—these characters all, in one way or another, reject this world for a world of fantasy and imagination that is often figured as death within the narratives of the films.

While Mary in Carnival of Souls claims that she is a “realist” when talking to the doctor, this clearly isn’t the case. Throughout the film she is drawn to the mysterious decayed carnival for no apparent reason. There are also the intriguing scenes in which she seems to have slipped into another dimension, leaving her unable to be seen or heard by others. Indeed, the narrative of the film is a graduate erosion of our reality for the fantasy world of the carnival. In the final twenty minutes of the film, she slips completely into its grasp. This is the most beautiful part of the film: pure visual poetry with almost no dialogue.

I’m not quite sure how to read the politics of this other dimension, though: because the film has linked this other “zombie world” to the conformity of our world by visually equating the three men to the zombie phantom, there is an element of tragedy in the ending. She slips from our world to one that is merely a funhouse mirror reflection of our world. It’s crucial, I think, that the dancing zombies are in heterosexual pairs. The pressure to “couple up” remains even in this other world. In this sense Carnival is like Cat People, in which the “King John” fantasy world is merely a repetition of Dr. Judd’s psychiatric “cure”—Irena is pierced with a phallic sword either way.

Still, there seems to be a liberation of some kind in the poetry of the images, the way the film abandons narrative to the play of light and movement. Either way, it’s a beautiful, moving film.

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