Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 4. 1966.
Films — Minor film is worthwhile
Minor film is worthwhile
I Doubt if many Vic film enthusiasts saw an excellent minor film that crept through Wellington recently. The Carnival Of Souls was first here in 1963 when it was screened at the Tudor for a few days. Released by an outfit called Hertz-Lion International, and directed by Herk Harvey (of whom I know nothing), the film is basically horror with metaphysical overtones.
A Car containing three young women crashes into a river from a bridge. It seems that all are lost, but eventually one of the occupants emerges from the water and, after questioning and treatment, proceeds on her way to Utah, where she is to take up a position as a church organist.
At this stage some peculiar things happen and it is not long before the situation is clarified—the girl is dead but does not realise it.
Anyone with an eye for the mystical can see here a situation fraught with possibilities, and it is to the film's credit that it makes the most of them. The rest of the story relates the various attempts made by the Souls (and one Soul in particular—an evil-looking gentleman with a pasty-white face) to persuade or coerce the woman to assume her rightful place with them.
As with most low-budget films, the worst is combined with the best in varying proportions There are several plot puzzles.
Twice during the film the woman is subject to an interesting transitory phase where she is unable to hear anything of the external world and cannot be seen or detected by the people in it, even though she walks among them in the streets and shops.
Anyone who saw the film must surely ask why she did not try the simple expedient, of reaching out and touching one of them. However, such slips are clearly not the prerogative of B-graders. After all, one wonders why Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane tortuously tried to write notes and throw them out the window to the neighbours standing below, when all she had to do to inform them of her plight was call out.
Some of the dialogue is pretty awful, most of the acting simple overplaying, and the dubbing generally amateurish and distracting. But the most important aspects, of the film (and of any films are the best. Direction and editing are imaginative and the photography is simply superb,
The most striking virtue, however, is the way in which all the avenues of this peculiar situation are fully explored. There are fantastically weird scenes set in a mysterious deserted carnival in the middle of the desert, an establishment which, for this particular assignment at least, seems to be the home of the Souls.
The episodes here are wonderfully evocative and almost psychoanalytic in the subjective treatment of the woman's strange dilemma. She realises that it is this carnival that holds the secret explanation of the phenomena that have haunted her and she is drawn back to it in dreams and waking life.
And it is here that "they finally catch up with her. The last scene of the film shows the car being dragged up from the river some time after. In the vehicle are three corpses, including that of the young woman on whom the world of the dead have spent so much time and effort. Very neat.