Damn Ted Turner and his colorization fetish of long ago. I’m sure that somehow, it precipitated events such as “Carnival of Souls” being presented in color, but thankfully, the original black-and-white is here too. After all, the “Is it or isn’t it?” afterlife should be featured the way it always was, and Candace Hilligoss looks a hell of a lot more attractive in black-and-white than what Legend Films (also responsible for the “Reefer Madness” travesty) attempted in their misfired colorization.
Hilligoss plays Mary Henry, seemingly the sole survivor of an eight-MPH drag race that ended with her and two other friends in the river. She comes out of the river, quite dirtied up, and soon after, aims her way out of the town to Utah, headed for a job as a church organist, which she sees as just a job. No spiritual feelings attached. Not only that, but she seems to have lost interest in a lot of other things, such as food, men, all except for an abandoned amusement park which seizes her interest over and over.
What makes the film effective is not only unsettling organ music that’ll make your skin wander, but also the thoughts that are likely to float to the top of your brain as you watch: Where is she? Why aren’t these people responding to her in the department store? What kind of apparitions are these? Moreso than that, the many performers that surround Hilligoss are quite unusual. There’s a landlady (Frances Feist) that tells Mary she can take all the baths she wants. She doesn’t mind. And John Linden (Sidney Berger), the other tenant across the way is prime evidence for the argument of select male neutering.
Director Herk Harvey, who plays the main ghostly apparition, with a face whiter than death could ever hope to advertise, had this as his only film. Coming off of industrial shorts more funnier than useful (with some given fair play on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”), he doesn’t go for the typical glossy scares that punctuate a lot of higher-budgeted horror films since there wasn’t the money to do that. Instead, he has his cast, his cinematographer Maurice Prather, his music, and his locations which ask the audience to think for themselves on this. Think about the situations involved. Think about what Mary is seeing and where she might be. Sometimes, that’s the best horror around, letting the imagination fill in the rest.
Fortunately, the “colorized” version is not considered a special feature, though it’s a damn shame the original black-and-white version is dumped into the special features menu. It’s more than special, after looking at the reduction in uneasiness in color, but it deserved prime billing with the color version. As for other special features, we lived in an age where man and robot worked together to skew crappy movies. Now since Tom Servo and Crow are mere memories of good puppetry, Michael J. Nelson has gone at it alone, spurting out a commentary for this, after doing so for “Reefer Madness”. Nelson still has his comedy down good in such lines as, “They hear the sound of bathwater and the perverts are magically drawn in,” but the wonders of rapport with oneself doesn’t succeed as well without smart-a*s robots. If Nelson is ever hard up for money along with Kevin Murphy (“Tom Servo”) or any of the other puppeteers, all that needs to be done are audio commentaries featuring Nelson and the rest of his crew. Could you imagine the sounds of TV’s Frank interrupting every few minutes or even the crankiness of Pearl across other cinematic abominations on DVD? I get happy below just thinking about it, but naturally, you didn’t need to know that. Nelson also puts in a few plugs for Trout Air, a fish farm and concert venue in Minnesota, and besides the obligatory info about “Carnival of Souls”, that’s all the use to be had here. A lot of things go well with robots and this is one of them.
As if Legend Films couldn’t get enough with their digital crayons, they also took to colorizing the trailer for “Carnival of Souls”. Colorization does nothing for a movie. It’s certainly not the right way to get people to watch a movie. Remember the colorized version of “Casablanca”? “Casablanca”, in addition to many elements that make the film a classic, has a smoky atmosphere that could only work in black-and-white, as it was intended. Gather ‘round closely because this is the only time I’m likely to reveal anything this embarrassing: When I was younger and admittedly stupider, I came upon a copy of “Casablanca” in the library that was colorized and decided to check it out and watch it. This was the first time I had seen “Casablanca”. Fortunately, I know better now and you should too. It’s impossible to imagine even Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas smoking cigarettes in color in “Out of the Past”, a device that made known their emotions. Black-and-white should remain black-and-white, regardless of “heralded” technological advances which companies like Legend Films claim make the films better. True it’s a matter of restoration with them too, but it’s simply not right. To me, colorizing films is like denying their place in history.
“Carnival of Souls” is a fascinating horror film that should reach other generations in black-and-white, which finds its strengths in letting the viewer’s mind work it out, thinking of why Mary is where she is, and what it could mean.