Carnival of Souls (1962)
Carnival of Souls is one of the most celebrated independent horror films ever. It was the only feature-length film directed by Herk Harvey and employs a haunting organ score and some of the most crisp cinematography I have ever seen in an indy film. The film depicts the story of a woman who apparently survives a car crash into a river only to be dogged by ghoulish figures, a lack of emotional attachment to anything, bouts of intangibility, and a powerful urge to visit an old carnival pavilion on a lake.
The movie plays out like an extra-long episode of The Twilight Zone, and though it’s very effectively filmed and scored, you get what’s going on almost immediately. The movie paces itself fairly well with creepy moments involving the ghouls but most of the plot feels like padding for what’s basically just a supernatural riff on An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. It’s not a bad or even mediocre movie, it’s quite good, I’ve just never found it to be as undeniably masterful as many others have.
Carnival of Souls (1998)
The remake of Carnival of Souls, which can only charitably be called a remake, has a watery car crash (and drowning imagery) and a creepy ghoulish figure that follows our lead. Unfortunately, while we didn’t know the identity of the lead ghoul (played by director Herk Harvey) in the original film, this time the villain is a murderous pedophile clown played by primarily-comedic actor Larry Miller. He insinutated himself into our heroine’s life as a child and raped and murdered her mother, was sentenced to life in prison and then escaped and tried to kill her, only to be killed himself when he attempted to take her hostage and she drove her car off a pier.
It’s less Carnival of Souls and more A Nightmare on Elm Street if Freddy was really obsessed with making his victims think they were drowning. The movie is plodding and just doesn’t work. And, I know this is out of left field but I couldn’t help but notice it so that tells me it has to be egregious; the make-up in this movie is bananas. Every woman in the cast and all of Larry Miller’s clown make-up appears to have been done by a Glamour Shots employee moonlighting on a 1993 Canadian sci-fi television show. I’m someone who rarely if ever notices make-up quality but it stuck out like a sore thumb to me.
Is it a good remake?
No, it’s an awful remake, and not in a fun fiasco way, it’s just unremarkable. Larry Miller is game to perform but unfortunately a series of pivotal comedic roles has taught me this jovial psychopath routine he’s doing here are meant to be funny. This movie is forgettable and rote and that’s a shame because somebody could’ve at least done something interesting with the concept instead of making it into another paint-by-numbers also-ran.
Does it stand on its own?
There are basically no ties to orignal Carnival of Souls, so in that regard, yes. But Carnival of Souls plays more like one of those late directo-to-video Hellraiser sequels where Doug Bradley is filmed showing up in full Pinhead regalia to collect his paycheck. It’s a sedate and lifeless supernatural film that really doesn’t even warrant seeing.
Watch, Toss, or Buy?
There’s not even a good reason for you to notice this exists. Toss it.