Carnival of Souls (1962)

Who’s in it?: Nobody you know.

What’s it about?: A young woman survives a traumatic car crash, but is followed by a dead man and drawn to an abandoned carnival ground.

How is it?: Surprisingly complex and effective. Though it’s the first narrative film by people better known for industrial/educational movies, it has deep themes about isolation and human connection. The main character, Mary (Candace Hilligoss) wasn’t a very social person before the accident that killed two of her acquaintances, but her narrow escape from death has left her even more disconnected. She’s a church organist, and a good one, but she repeatedly hears that she’d be truly great if only she put more soul into her playing. The film’s not subtle about this: Mary lacks something and isn’t quite human.

She doesn’t think of her disconnection as a problem until she starts being pursued by a ghostly figure and feeling called towards a spooky, deserted fairground inhabited by other dead people. She also begins to experience episodes in which no one seems to be able to see or hear her. As the film progresses, she gets more and more freaked out and starts to wonder if its too late to reach out to people, but even when she interacts with others, the amateurish acting of her co-stars makes those encounters feel unreal and heightens the sense of disconnection. It’s a unique instance of a film actually being enhanced by the unprofessionalism of its cast.

Final rating: Classic. If you dig films like the original Night of the Living Dead, you should really check this out.

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