Rifftrax Live: ‘Carnival of Souls’ Review: venerable movie riffers goof on a horror cult classic for a Halloween treat.
Last night the Rifftrax crew (MTS3K vets Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett) took the stage at Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre. Their riffing target for the evening? The cult-classic 1962 horror film Carnival of Souls. But no Rifftrax experience is complete with a pair of introductory shorts, and there were two fittingly awkward educational films to be skewered.
First up, was Health: The Dirt-Witch Cleans Up, an instructional film on personal hygiene, and Grass Masks a bizarro arts and crafts kids film about making…well…masks out of grass (produced by the comedy collective’s favorite target, ACI films)
But the main event was Carnival of Souls. As a major fan of that film I must admit I had cause for concern. Souls is a unique and beautiful film–shot in Kansas and Utah, yet with an art house European feel. Its moody, black and white cinematography and eerie tone is so esteemed it even received the Criterion treatment in a recent Blu-ray release. Does it really deserve the Rifftrax treatment? Of course it does.
The beauty of Rifftrax is that their gentle humor isn’t about decimating a film, it’s about heightening its flaws and weird beats, and Carnival certainly has plenty of those moments (it’s also worth noting Carnivals has been the recipient of several Rifftrax slams, as well as a Mike Nelson solo commentary over the years).
It was also notable that the film shown was the colorized version. That controversial technique marred a number of films when it was introduced in the 1980’s, and Souls rich noir atmospherics were completely sapped by the day-glow color. This made it a much easier film to goof on.
Highlights included quips about leading actress Candace Hilligloss’ (portraying protagonist Mary Henry) many walking scenes and vacant stares, along with the film’s blaring church organ score (an instrument which the comics noted sounds about the same whether played correctly or incorrectly).
The leering, sleazy John Linden (Sidney Berger) , was the butt of many jokes about his predatory personality (they deemed him a “greasy Pee Wee Herman”), along with the numerous stiff, unseasoned extras peppered throughout the film.
Perhaps the most humorous moment came in one of the few moments of dynamic action when Hilligloss barely avoids getting hit by a van (Nelson gave her credit for doing more dangerous stunt-work than Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious).
The film’s director Herk Harvey was also a notable point of reference, from both his name (Corbett noted it sounded like the aural equivalent of barfing) to his affiliation with another Rifftrax classic, the industrial short Shake Hands With Danger.
The end result was another home run for Rifftrax, and a good-natured ribbing of a obscure horror property.