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Saturday, November 05, 2005
Niles and I are big MST3K fans, but, alas, it is no more. The MST principals have picked up a few other gigs here and there, though. Mike Nelson, for example, provides audio commentary for a version of the horror "classic" Carnival of Souls.
So tonight Niles and I snuggled in with this movie, little realizing the sheer horror that would await us.
Carnival of Souls begins in some nameless burg (which is actually Lawrence, Kansas) with a couple of juvenile delinquents challenging three girls, who look like Sunday school teachers, to a drag race. After some initial hesitation ("Do you think we should, Doris?" "Oh, I don't know, Emma."), they accept. When the race takes them over a narrow bridge, the delinquents repeatedly ram the girls' car, then act all surprised when it goes into the river.
Three hours later the cops are dragging the river, but have just about given up, 'cause of the strong current and the silt and the fact that the river's five, maybe six feet deep just there. But wait! One of the girls (who probably had a name, but I wasn't paying attention) is crawling out of the water! How she got out after three hours, or where the others are, or what Teddy Kennedy joke should go here, she can't explain.
A couple days later she goes on merrily to her pre-arranged job as a church organist in Salt Lake City. But she does not escape so easily, for all the way to Salt Lake, and at her church job, and in her dismal rented room, she is stalked by a man in too much make-up (Herk Harvey, director and Head Zombie). She's repeatedly drawn to an abandoned amusement park, where in the end Herk and the Zombies grab her and drag her into the lake. The cops find her last traces there, but her footprints in the sand lead nowhere. She turns up who-knows-how-long later, back at the bottom of the river with the two other girls in Lawrence. Gasp!
So, of course the filmmakers really wanted the horror to lie in the overuse of make-up and the partying zombies and the times when the woman seems to vanish from the world of the living. But the real horror lies in her scenes with her fellow lodger, the groping, leering, oleaginous John. Ewwww!
John shows up at her door shortly after she gets there. She's just out of the bath, and opens the door thinking he's the landlady. Seeing her clad only in a towel, he naturally tries to ooze in, acting as if he couldn't imagine how a lubricious stranger might threaten a woman by trying to push his way into her room while she's half-nekkid. (I've known guys like that.)
Now, back in '62, especially in places like Lawrence, women didn't know how to administer groin kicks or instep stomps or Vulcan death grips, so she has to get rid of him politely. He is not deterred, however, and shows up the next morning with "unsanitary coffee" the moment her alarm has stopped ringing. He pursues her like this for a couple days, at one point molesting a stair banister while he asks her on a date (no, really). We are led to believe that this woman feels no need for human contact ('cause she's dead, see), and yet she prefers the company of the loathesome John to being alone with her lurking zombie nemesis. Frankly, I don't see it.
John's performance was so oily, so sticky, and so grimy as to comprise the true terror of this film, making the climax -- where she's chased down by the cheerful zombies -- seem a happy ending in comparison to what might have awaited her in the rooming house. I'm pretty sure this was unintentional.
But that wasn't the really scary thing.
The really scary thing happened when we looked at the "special features" included with the movie, and learned that the man who played "John", Sidney Berger, is now Doctor Sidney Berger, Director of the School of Theater at the University of Houston.
I'll never sleep in this town again.
By the way, this version of Carnival of Souls is colorized. I do not understand this burning desire to colorize black-and-white movies. Depending on the movie, it could even be sacrilegious. But this is a darned good colorization, except, as always, for the skin tones, which look like they were hand-tinted by third-graders wielding Crayola crayons ("flesh").
Oh, yeah: Dr. Sidney "John" Berger is co-founder and producer of the "Children's Theatre Festival". THE HORROR. THE HORROR.