If we had to designate a prototype of what we call a “cult film”, it could be “The Carnival of souls”, filmed in Utah and Kansas in the early 1960s by a complete stranger, Herk Harvey, with equally obscure actors. Neither completely fantastic nor horrific, it is located at the crossroads of genres, somewhere in the “fourth dimension”, to use the title of a legendary TV series of the time. It is the story of a young woman survivor of a car accident who arrives in a small town, where she is hired as organist in a church. But a disturbing man haunts her; she sees it everywhere… Along with the fantastic dimension, the everyday, the provincial banality, are very well defined. Integrating surreal elements into a very prosaic vision of ordinary small town life (with its pastor, mechanic, landlady, dredgers, etc.), ” the Carnival of Souls ” is both a chronicle full of old-fashioned charm and an abyss of strangeness. Everything would be fine if Mary didn’t have this phobia, or sometimes even the feeling of living in another reality. Quantum horror in all its glory. The duality of this familiar yet disturbing world is underscored by haunting organ music – linked to Mary’s profession. Curiously, the musical score and the orchestration are quite reminiscent of a classic from the same period: “Last year in Marienbad” (1961) by Alain Resnais. It is not their only resemblance. Harkey’s film also distills the same type of nightmarish atmosphere and we find the same mirror games with reality. It is obvious that Harvey and Resnais did not know each other, because their universes are very different. “The Carnival of Souls”, a freelance director shot for a fistful of dollars by an employee at an educational film production company, lacks the ‘new novel’ brainpower of ” Last year… “ However, he shares the same reflection on the possible existence of a parallel reality, on an insensitive crossing of the border between life and death. Moreover, he is undoubtedly one of the first to use the living dead as fictional fuel. Its undecidable character, its clear and distinct non-belonging to the genre of terror, make it all the more heady.
“The Carnival of Souls” by Herk Harvey. United States, 1962, 1:14 a.m.
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