Monday, October 19, 2009
"Hey, I don't want to get turned on again,
but I was thinking of asking you to dinner."
Carnival of Souls must be commended for truly capturing the horrors of Utah. As I am a current inhabitant of this "lovely" "state", I can verify that everything documented in Herk Harvey's 1962 classic is wholly accurate. Catholics are very aware that they're "clearly not the biggest church" and organists are lured across state lines with promises of employment. The locals are friendly yet firm, alcohol leads to loose morals, and of course, non-religious women are ghoul-haunted--have been since 1820.
The movie opens on a splendid joy ride turned scene of multiple drownings. The sole survivor, a woman named Mary, packs up and heads out to America's 45th state. She's that organist we were talking about earlier. On her way through the Bonneville Salt Flats, she starts seeing things...ghostly things. This isn't unusual. During our trip home after last year's Cinequest, I thought I saw John Candy driving a 24-Hour Plumbing truck. He was driving from the passenger's seat while watching his scenes from National Lampoon's Vacation on a giant Egg McMuffin. Utah's an odd place to be sleepy. While Mary's visions aren't as overrun with celebrity cameos and product placement, they're two times as creepy.
The director, Herk Harvey, made a career out of instructional and educational videos. Carnival of Souls was his only feature film. The budget was an extremely modest $17,000. Although, those were 1962 dollars. Today, that could come out to...um...let's see, if nickels were only a penny...carry the 1/16...ah, I don't know. It cost more than Paranormal Activity. After making a trek from California back home to Kansas (America's most special state), Harvey noticed an abandoned funstructure called Saltair. He immediately knew that it would be the setting for his ghastly feature. Here's a genuinely incredible quote from the world's most reliable source, Wikipedia:
"Saltair was a family place, intended to provide a safe and wholesome atmosphere with the open supervision of Church leaders. While some of the other resorts in the area were seen as "spiritually bleak," a young courting Mormon couple could visit Saltair without worrying about gossip, which was more prevalent at the time, when Mormonism was more culturally conservative than it is today."
Theologic theme parks aside, for a How to Buckle Your Safety Belt filmmaker to knock it out of the park on his first try is more than noteworthy, it's goddamn impressive. For the record, Herk Harvey's Hollywood batting record is 1.000; not even Vondie Curtis-Hall can claim that.