Combustible Celluloid
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With: Candance Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt, Herk Harvey
Written by: John Clifford
Directed by: Herk Harvey
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 78
Date: 03/18/2013

Rifftrax: Carnival of Souls (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Boyfriends and Ghoulfriends

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following the demise of the beloved "Mystery Science Theater 3000" TV show, its stars Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett continued on by creating "Rifftrax," which were downloadable audio files that could be played along with your favorite movies. Now the crew has assembled a series of ten new "Rifftrax" DVDs, released by Legend Films and including funny audio commentary tracks (no silhouettes or robot heads) as well as an option to view the movie with its original audio track. The downside is that all of these titles are in the public domain, are widely available elsewhere, and are not in the best of quality. In the case of Carnival of Souls, the comedy team is competing with a definitive two-disc Criterion Collection DVD. The "Rifftrax" disc includes the 78-minute public domain print, and not Criterion's 83-minute "director's cut." Moreover, there's the problem that Carnival of Souls is actually a great movie, and their ridicule of its quality and artistic touches doesn't really work. However, some of their other jokes still work, and once they get you giggling, it's hard to stop. The following is my original 2001 review of the film:

Carnival of Souls was a horror film directed by "Herk" Harvey, whose steady job was making industrial films in Kansas. He and his screenwriter, John Clifford, decided that they wanted to break away from those and make something along the lines of Ingmar Bergman and Jean Cocteau, but since their budget was small, and Harvey wanted to center the story around an abandoned carnival, the horror story was born. A girl, Mary (Candace Hilligoss), is the only survivor of an accident after a carload of young people careens over a bridge. She leaves town, accepting a job as a church organist. She immediately strikes us as strange. She has no manners. At a gas station, she barks, "fill 'er up" to the attendant without so much as a "please." Her new landlady, who goes out of her way to make sandwiches, gets an equally cold shoulder. But her new neighbor across the hall tries the hardest and gets the biggest brush off (which is okay, because he's kind of a sleazy loser).

Hilligoss was an interesting bit of casting. She was a stage actress trained in the "method" who was essentially asked to play a girl with no soul. She had an interesting face, with large features and a sharp voice. Even when her character is too cold to identify with, the viewer is still drawn in by her strangely cinematic face. But maybe Mary has a reason to act odd. She keeps seeing a white-faced ghoul man following her around, even while she's driving. The movie has one supreme moment of horror when she looks out her passenger window while driving on a dark highway and sees the man standing outside her window, as if she weren't moving at all. Later, Mary explores the abandoned carnival and finds more ghouls, who seem to have some kind of sinister purpose for her.

Having Mary play the organ was a masterstroke, as Harvey and Clifford were able to use spooky organ music for their score as well. The movie is a triumph of mood over character, since we can't drum up much affection for such a cold-hearted girl. And, though their budget was tiny, Harvey and Clifford achieved the art-house look they were going for.

The ten Rifftrax DVDs are: RiffTrax: Night of the Living Dead, RiffTrax: The Little Shop of Horrors, RiffTrax: Reefer Madness, RiffTrax: Carnival of Souls, RiffTrax: House on Haunted Hill, RiffTrax: Missile to the Moon, RiffTrax: Plan 9 from Outer Space, RiffTrax: Swing Parade, RiffTrax: The Best Of RiffTrax Shorts, Vol. 1 andRiffTrax: The Best Of RiffTrax Shorts, Vol. 2.

Best Buy Co, Inc.