I have to thank Ted and Tony from Horror Etc for this one. You can listen to their thoughts on Carnival of Souls on their Terror in Monochrome 2, episode 339. If you haven't been listening to the Horror Etc podcast, then I highly recommend that you rectify this.
Within episode 339 they talk about Carnival of Souls, a black and white classic from 1962 directed by Jacques Tourneur, staring Candace Hilligoss. It was listening to this podcast where I considered watching this movie and, recently, I did indeed watch it. I actually watched it a couple of times, as it's that freaking good!
It's that good for a few reasons. While watching, I kept wondering about the seemingly strange descent into madness of our hero, Mary Henry. Or is it a descent into madness? One impressive thing is Candace Hilligoss's performance. Through my first viewing, I thought that her performance was stilted and, well, just plain bad. The second time, though, I realized that it's possible that the actress was pulling off a good performance as she's portraying her character. It's Mary, her character that's flat and, to be honest, pretty cold. She's also confused, scared, and contradicts herself all the time. And when the movie ends, her journey complete, you can't help but to be on her side and feel bad for her.
We start the movie with Mary sitting in the passenger seat of her friend's car. They're at a stoplight when a group of guys pull up beside them. "Want to race?" the driver says. Mary's driving friend, a young woman smoking a cigarette and looking fifties cool says that indeed, she does want to race.
And so they do.
The race ends badly when the women's car car accidentally goes over a bridge into a rivers. No one seems to merge from the accident for some time until, low and behold, Mary crawls from the mud and the clutches of death upon the river shore.
An organist, Mary soon after takes on a job in another town , in church, where she can be the sole organist. (On a side note, let me tell you about this organ she plays. it's huge, and I'm not sure how they fit inside the churches.) This is where the story begins to get strange.
From the beginning of this journey, we're introduced to "the man," a vision Mary keeps seeing in reflections of mirrors and windows. He is this creepy dude, apparently acted by Jacques--the director--himself, and represents not only the guilt of a sole survivor, but of something else so much deeper that this viewer was left, at the end, wondering what his role ever was in the first place if not the intoxicant to our journey's very end.
The plot moves fairly quickly, and we're introduced to Mary's sudden obsession with a dead carnival of the town. Whenever she illegally enters this "dead carnival," things get even weirder.
What we have, in the end, is a descent into madness, guilt, and/or something else entirely. It's these qualities that makes this movie so enjoyable. It makes you think and guess and then second guess yourself. Along the way you find that you're having some fun, which is never wrong when watching a movie. Although the ending isn't completely unpredictable, you find yourself saying, "Huh," at its end. Or at least I did.