(1962, Horror, colorized)
Unsanitary, but delicious.
In a nutshell:
Waterlogged spooks haunt a young church organist.
The movie kicks off in Kansas with a cautious, low-speed drag race gone horribly wrong. A car full of boys accidentally nudges a car full of girls over the side of a one-lane bridge; volunteers drag the river for hours, but find nothing. Just as they’re about to give up, one of the passengers—a sodden young woman named Mary—hauls herself onto the shore.
Despite the trauma of the accident and the apparent deaths of her carmates, she remains unmoved by recent events, leaving town to accept a previously accepted job as a church organist in Utah. En route, she sees an abandoned amusement park and several visions of a waterlogged zombie (played by the director, Herk Harvey).
Mary arrives and tries to go about her life as usual, checking in with her new boss and her landlady and fending off the advances of her oily fellow boarder. She remains troubled by visions of the undead, however, and sometimes no one can see or hear her. Throughout, her clergyman boss, doctor friend, and oily fellow boarder all remark about how detached she seems, as if she has no interest sharing her life with her fellow men.
She eventually loses her grip on the real world; one day at church, she falls into a trance and plays creepy organ music while she hallucinates a tribe of watery undead dancing at the abandoned amusement park. Her boss calls the music “profane” and makes her stop. He fires her from her job and offers religious comfort in the same breath. The doctor friend and the oily fellow boarder are no help either. She tries to flee the state, but car troubles and further undead shenanigans prevent her.
That night she goes to the amusement park to confront her fears. She watches the water zombies dance; one of them with her undead self. She screams and flees, but the zombies pursue and capture her. Later, the police find her car, as well as the footprints of the chase through the sand, but the footprints vanish at a point in the middle of the beach. Even laterer, the volunteers back in Kansas finally find the car at the bottom of the river. Inside they find the remarkably well-preserved corpses of Mary and her companions.
The deserted amusement park depicted is called Saltair, found on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. As a former resident of Utah, I’ve driven past Saltair many, many times, and even though it’s burned down and been rebuilt since they filmed Carnival of Souls, it still looks every bit as creepy from a distance. Though Mike harps on it a lot as a “Mormon amusement park,” I feel I must point out that there isn’t anything specifically Mormon about it beyond its location in a predominantly Mormon state. (Not since the original park burned down in 1925, anyway). By that logic, you’d have to refer to the Catholic Church where Mary works as a Mormon Catholic Church, which wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Still, it’s funnier Mike’s way, which I understand is pretty much the point.
The pay-off shot at the end made me think, “Hey, just like The Sixth Sense,” and I had to consciously remind myself that Carnival of Souls came first. It’s not that bad a film, actually. It’s creepy and effective, if rather slow, though I think the movie’s unhurried pace works in its favor. If those goofy-looking water zombies had popped up every few minutes, I’d have been rolling my eyes at them all the way through. In practice, they appear just often enough to keep it campy without ruining the mood.
The problem with pre-Rifftrax commentaries of good (well, good-ish) films is that Mike apparently feels the need to be informative as well as funny. Throughout, he goes on about the history of the filmmaker, the actors depicted, Saltair, and so on, taking up valuable time that could have been filled with relentless mockery. He gets off some good ones though, with “They like to keep their drag races under the posted speed limit,” (referring to the events leading to the accident); “All the dialog was recorded later, inside a refrigerator box,” (referring to the bad looping); and “It’s amazing how much hard work and ingenuity goes into making such a cheap, tinny sound,” (referring to the unceasing organ score). The film itself is fun to watch, and Mike definitely adds to the experience, but the commentary’s origin as a Legend Films DVD track means that comedy was probably not the sole object of its creation.
(1962, Horror, colorized)