Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Carnival of Souls

(1962) ***1/2 

I originally intended to review the experience of watching Carnival of Souls in sync with KISS’s 1997 album of the same name. I secretly hoped to discover another Wizard of Oz meets Dark Side of the Moon phenomenon. Unfortunately the experiment was disastrous but I’ll get back to that later.  
I was surprised that this film had never been reviewed on Horrorthon. What is essentially a drive-in B-movie aimed at stoners has proven to be way ahead of its time and highly influential. One can clearly see how it inspired some of David Lynch’s most memorable scenes as well has his body of work in general. The great achievement of Carnival of Souls is its ability to sustain a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that something is not quite right for an entire movie.
It begins with a deadly teenage drag race that results in a speeding car careening off of a bridge and into a river. Three hours later Mary, the sole survivor of the crash emerges from the river with a you wouldn’t believe the shit I’ve been through expression that rivals Ronette Pulaski after a Friday night date with Bob.  
We don't want to talk about it right now.
Mary moves on with her life and relocates to Utah where she finds work in a church as an organist. However, despite her strong will she begins to break down mentally. Little things wig her out big time and a white faced ghoul she only describes as “that man” stalks her tirelessly.  “That man” is one of those ghosts whose only goal is to scare the living shit out of you. He never speaks, he walks around with his creepy sullen white face and he shows up when you least expect him. Like many other ghosts he has terrible communication skills. Mary believes that the answers she seeks lie at an abandoned carnival by the water and frankly I fully supported this endeavor. Is there anything cooler than wandering through an abandoned carnival at night?
As much as I love this movie I can’t rate it any higher due to low budget amateur sloppiness. There is some wooden acting, the pacing is unconventional and the story goes in circles for a good 15 minutes of the movie. Still there is much to appreciate. Mary is an intriguing character. She is a gifted organist who plays in the church but she doesn’t much care for religion. She reveals to a therapist that she has “no desire for the close company of people”. In some ways she seems just as vacant as the ghoul who haunts her and yet you still can’t help but root for her.
A note about the Kiss album (I’ll keep this brief):

Carnival of Souls is one of the most polarizing albums in Kiss’s vast catalog. Recorded in 1995, the boys were trying to shed their embarrassing Bon Jovi image of the late 80’s and compete with popular grunge bands such as Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. It remains their heaviest and most bleak album to date but it is very difficult to listen to. Instead of singing about their usual subjects such as partying and loose women who reach into Paul Stanley's pocket to grab on to his "rocket",  the songs on COS deal with hate, suicide, rain and walking alone. The album was shelved indefinitely when Ace and Peter rejoined the band in ’96 and it was eventually released as an afterthought in 1997 to poor sales and little fanfare. The Kiss community generally despises the album (often ranked dead last on forum polls) but there is a small vocal group of supporters, including yours truly.
Though I am a fan of both the movie and the album, the combination proved positively toxic. The organ music that added so much to the uneasy vibe of the film was replaced by blistering guitars, pounding drums and agonizing screams. Lyrics that I hoped would sync up such as "I read you died last night" in the song Childhood's End anticlimactically matched up with a mechanic washing a windshield. There was one scene where the music and video blended hilariously as Mary fiddled with the radio station but she couldn't stop the Kiss music so she eventually gave up. That scene notwithstanding there aren't enough bong hits in the world to make such an experiment succeed. 


Catfreeek said...

Haha! I love that you tried for the album synce, perhaps it would work better with Rubber's Lover. Great review, your always so entertaining.

Catfreeek said...

Btw I loved this film too but hated the remake which isn't even vaguely like the original.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I watched the remake last night! I learned of its existence last week.

AC said...

this is in our queue, glad to hear it's a good 'un.

DCD said...

Sounds intriguing! I'll skip the Kiss part if I every catch the flick, Desroc says he's not much of a fan of that album. Hope that doesn't diminish him in your eyes, JSP!

Crystal Math said...

Bah! Now I'm pissed I fell asleep while watching this!

I wish that more feature-length movies synced up with KISS albums. And for your information, "I Walk Alone" has gotten me through many tough times since I first listened to it.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

DCD - You tell Desroc that I respect his decision to dismiss the Carnival of Souls album but he needs to give The Elder a fair shake, beginning to end, with headphones, uninterrupted - and that's a fact!

Octopunk said...

Excellent review Johnny! I'm surprised we haven't covered it, too. I have a vague memory of someone telling me to check it out, or maybe some other movie...

You sir, are a pioneer in movie/album syncronicity! Somebody has to explore this stuff.

50PageMcGee said...

don't give up, brother. maybe the problem is you just haven't set the album to play at the right moment. maybe you need to trigger it from when the car crashes.

i keep meaning to go back to this one -- the shot of her running across that beachy area up to the carnival sticks with me.

Abduscias said...

I loved this movie...had a weird urge to kick the nosy neighbors ass!

Landshark said...

Did anyone else read this passage:

"Recorded in 1995, the boys were trying to shed their embarrassing Bon Jovi image of the late 80’s and compete with popular grunge bands such as Alice in Chains and Soundgarden."

And then think: man do I know fuck-all about KISS.