The original 1962 Carnival of Souls is one of those movies that really sticks with you once you’ve seen it. And then there’s the 1998 remake as well as a 2007 German movie called Yella that is apparently a thinly veiled remake as well. But I’ve not seen that one and have no intention to because, well, it’s called fricking Yella. WTF?
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)
The original 1962 Carnival of Souls is a low-budget masterpiece loaded with creepy visuals and music, a terrifying atmosphere, and those damn creepy white-faced ghouls led by that unforgettable, well-dressed zombie dude. No matter how much anyone wants to try to figure out the movie and analyze its meaning, the bottom line is, it’s nightmarish.
The story is simple. Mary is in a car with her girlfriends when some boys challenge them to a drag race. The girls’ car ends up going off a bridge into the water and only Mary escapes alive. Feeling like she’s not fitting in, Mary decides to leave her current job as a church organ player and start over in a new town and a new church.
Unfortunately, this terrifying zombie dude keeps appearing out of nowhere and just staring at Mary.
She also becomes mesmerized by a big amusement park near the place she’s staying. She finds herself going into trances in which she plays ominous organ music, as if she’s playing at her own funeral. And every once in a while, she discovers that it’s like she doesn’t even exist anymore; people around her don’t see her, hear her, or respond to her at all.
There’s plenty to read into Carnival of Souls about Mary’s current plane of existence. Did she die in the car accident and just doesn’t know it? Did she escape death in Final Destination style and now it’s coming for her? Or are the demons coming to drag her to hell because of an immoral life she may have lived?
Personally, I think the problem is that Mary is a big old lesbo! First of all, she’s hanging in a car with her girls, and instead of trying to flirt with the guys, the girls drag race with them! No sweet hetero bimbos would do that in 1962!
Mary runs from the church because she doesn’t fit in—and finds herself just as out of place in a new church, where she worries about being judged by all the other ladies in the church. She fends off the advances of any man who comes near her and is paranoid about men looking at her (especially when she’s in the bathtub). She’d rather be alone than go that route!
Out of my closet, mister!
Hell, she’s terrified when she dreams of herself as one of the indistinguishable masses, and screams in horror when she’s partnered in a hetero dance with the well-dressed zombie.
In the end, the church rejects her because her fingers dabble in the profane—playing evil music on the organ, I mean. And her attempts at psychiatric help are a failure as well. She remains that lost girl who simply can’t be changed and would rather be alone than conform. LESBIAN, I tell you!
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1998)
The 1998 remake takes the basic premise and totally rewrites the plot, leaving only a few elements of the original. The leading lady, this time named Alex (should’ve been lesbian Mary’s name), is in a car crash off a peer, and then a creepy dude seems to be stalking her.
20 years ago, Alex saw this clown at a carnival do evil stuff to her mom. Now, she’s convinced this guy is still after her and also coming for her sister, played by scream queen Shawnee Smith, who is totally under utilized in the film.
When Alex is attacked by hellish demons in a terrifying car wash scene, it looks like this remake might really intensify the concept of the original. But then the demons are exploited to the point that they lose their scary edge.
And the clown dude keeps appearing to her and talking to her in her dreams of the carnival, so he’s a yawnfest as well. On top of that, she meets a hot dude at the carnival who I’m guessing is her guardian angel. Personally, I’d be taking him straight to hell….
It’s kind of like they decided that since the movie is called Carnival of Souls, they’d make it all about a carnival. Unfortunately, the movie has no soul. Watch the amazing car wash scene as if it’s a short film and it will stick with you. Watch the whole movie, and it will totally negate the value of that scene.
Look. It’s the big scary clown man. EEK! Mary totally would have gone with him without a fight.