This morning, I am working a post-event graveyard shift, having arrived at 9PM for the tail end of the festivities (I will be returning at 5PM for a long slog). After locking up, I decided that I would take a break and begin watching a cult-classic throughout the night, between my tasks. I chose the low-budget ($30K!) high-concept Carnival of Souls. The film is in the public domain, and can be found in its entirety on the t00bz:
The initial sequence of the film immediately reminded me of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and the film covers similar ground. The core of the film is Candace Hilligoss' performance as Mary Henry, the irreligious organist who leaves the town in which she suffered an accident to be become a church organist in Utah. Hilligoss, doe-eyed and high cheekboned, is a luminous presence, her toughness as a survivor contrasted with her vulnerability to hallucinations and convictions that she is becoming disjointed from reality. She has to fend off the advances of both her slimy lothario of a boarding-house neighbor and the advances of a cadaverous man played by film director Herk Harvey, all the while being beset by episodes of intangiblity and the attentions of ghastly apparitions. The ending of the film is appropriately Biercian.
Reading up on the film after watching it, there is a great feminist interpretation of the movie, with the female protagonist bucking the roles that society expects of women and dealing with the haranguing condescension of even the nominally sympathetic men around her, such as the minister who fires her for her 'profane', apparition-inspired playing or the doctor who tries to treat her for her attacks.
The movie isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, some of the acting by the majority-amateur cast is clunky, and the pacing could be tightened up a bit, but it is a memorable one, and one which can be interpreted in many ways (are the creepy ghouls from the pavilion, along with the cadaverous man himself, evil, or are they attempting to help Mary with her transition to the afterlife?). It's a nice, eerie bit of cinema with an amazing back-story which casts a long shadow on the horror movie genre... a nice watch for Halloween.