Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls (1962), directed by Herk Harvey.

After inexplicably escaping drowning in a car crash, a young woman wanders in a dreamlike and disassociated state. Sometimes her world goes silent and sometimes other people can't see or hear her. Ghoulish figures stare and menace her. She is drawn to a ruined outdoor pavilion where dead figures rise from the water and dance. She begins to see herself as one of them...

Spooky happenings but otherwise plotless. Patterns but not a real story. It is a micro-budget effort from industrial filmmakers who wanted to try something more exciting. They were going for a Euro art-film look and some of the photography is striking. The actors are amateurs and students and semi-pros; they project and enunciate in stage voices.

Initially it played only at drive-ins through the South and then the distributor went out of business. It's become a cult feature since and is valuable as an example of low-budget amateur filmmaking. As a horror feature on it's own merits: not so much. Young George Romero liked it. I've heard David Lynch suggested as a fan.

The sound is often only roughly synced, most famously with her echoing footsteps, done at the studio with high heeled shoes rapping on a plywood board. The director says he wanted to do better but there was no time or money. A fortuitous error: it adds to the dreamlike quality of those scenes.

Filmed in and around Lawrence, Kansas and the ruined Saltair pavilion in Utah. The pavilion was the origin of the story: they wrote the film around it.

Criterion 2-disc DVD set. The restored theatrical version is vastly better than the public domain copy I had seen before. It looks more like a serious film now. The set includes the director's cut which is 5 minutes longer but poorer quality. That version has a commentary track by the director and writer. I has some good info but also long silent stretches.

Later: available on Blu-ray from Criterion. My thumbnails are from the DVD.