Carnival of Souls

27 February
Cornerhouse

Carnival of Souls is a horror film directed by Herk Harvey which, although released to very little attention in 1962, underwent a reappraisal in the 80s and is now considered to have significantly influenced the films of David Lynch and George A Romero. The film is about an organ player, Mary Henry, who is the only survivor in an accident. She moves to Utah, where she takes a job playing at a church, and is plagued by visions which are somehow connected to an old abandoned carnival.

















This year it has been re-imagined, in the style of William Castle, as an audio drama with an interesting gimmick – sensory deprivation. It was conceived with input by a focus group of blind and partially sighted people as a response to the dull manner in which audio description is often delivered.

On entry, audience members were given headphones and an eye mask to wear throughout the event, a sight which, had somebody stumbled in by accident, may have been even more scary than the actual experience itself. Combined with the fact you couldn’t see, the sound had been designed binaurally so that it sounded as though everything was happening around you, as if there were people performing in the aisles. From a technical perspective this was very impressive. For quite some time I felt that somebody was standing right next to me, about to tap me on my shoulder. But following in the tradition of the original film, there were no jump scares. Instead they used music and dialogue to create an atmosphere of unease.

At times it was frightening, but at others a little naff. It’s a piece which comes from a long tradition of horror gimmicks, like The Tingler, a film whose audience’s seats were rigged to vibrate, and 13 Ghosts, whose onscreen ghosts could be hidden by viewing through a piece of coloured cellophane. Not to mention the current obsession with 3D cinema, and more recently D-Box. These techniques, novel though they are, bend cinema away from art and towards so-called ‘experience’. It was fun, but not as good as it needs to be to lift itself out of its own constraints, and it will therefore remain a curiosity rather than a piece of art in its own right, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Jack Clare

Wild

Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée

After watching the trailer for Wild, I expected Reese Witherspoon to climb out of her type-casted box of ‘mom and girl’ roles. I was excited to see her take on a woman, who set out to embark on a near impossible trek along the Pacific Coast Trail. After watching Into The Wild, I expected a similar storyline – a middle-class, well-educated kid gives up their trust fund and braves the volatile and treacherous American wilderness, all in the name of ‘Fuck You, American Dream’.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Witherspoon’s character, Cheryl, to be someone I could relate to, someone all women can relate to, and moreover found it refreshing to see a woman grace the screen before me with such integrity and drive. She reminded me of one of my beloved Beat writers, Jack Kerouac. She threw caution to the wind and as the film played out, her story unfolded and we learned the pain and triggers behind her struggle to walk 3,000 miles to find solace.

Drug abuse, broken relationships, death and addictions. Real things we have all experienced and moved on from, and chosen not to dwell on. We are content to settle back into our lives – 7am alarm clocks, coffee, work, socialising, cigarettes and conforming to what we should be. We ought to be decent human beings, respectable members of society, paying our rent on time, avoiding jail, adhering to the stereotype until retirement and the grave.

Witherspoon’s character gave a voice to my inner wolf that longs to transcend and abandon the constraints of society. We watched her struggle up the trail and embrace the freedom the American wilderness has to offer, albeit at a price – frostbite, fear of others, wild animals, hunger and thirst. The notion of this freedom was displayed so well. The beautiful American landscapes, the barren land, the sunrise behind the mountains, and the nothingness. Cheryl gave up her life as she knew it for this, which resonated within me, exemplified by one of her lines in particular: “I have only another 300 miles left to walk. I'm desperate for it to be over. I'm terrified too. When I'm done, I'll only have two dimes to my name, but I'll have to start living. I'm nowhere near ready."

She gave a voice which I imagine so many of us have within us but cannot bring ourselves to use. Are we ready to live? Could you persuade yourself or five friends who have fucked up in any way in their lives to give up their jobs, homes and ‘lives’ in order to be free and experience real freedom in the wild?

This brings me back to Kerouac, who I believe Witherspoon held deep within her character, despite her frequent Emily Dickinson references and scenes of sleeping in the snow and the freezing deserts. In On The Road, Kerouac wrote, “Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, than sleep in a comfortable bed unfree.” I believe this is the message that was fundamental to the film, and was what held our protagonist together throughout her 3,000-mile trek, through heaven, hell and purgatory.

The film ends with Witherspoon’s character reaching the finish point, with nothing but freedom of self, strength and forgiveness for her past. I can’t think of a more fitting sentiment than Kerouac’s in Dharma Bums, when he reached the end of his road, just like Cheryl in Wild: “Pain or love or danger makes you real again.”

I recommend this film to every person reading this. I guarantee you’ll find some inspiration to leave something behind and seek solace outside of the commodities you have in the city you live.

Cameron Broadhurst