Movies I’ve Recently Seen: Carnival of Souls, Ministry of Fear, Blade Runner 2049, & Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

In which I tell you about a classic, independent horror film, two works by German directors in America, and the sequel everyone is talking about.

A- Carnival of Souls (1962), FilmStruck

This low-budget horror movie works in some very strange ways. A car goes off a bridge into a deep river, and one sole survivor comes out of the deep. She then drives to a new town where a job is waiting for her. But scary, dead-looking people seem to follow her. Has she lost her mind, or is she being pulled into the afterlife? The movie is creepy and atmospheric, and since it concentrates on her mental condition, it’s not exceptionally gruesome. Candace Hilligoss gives an excellent performance in the lead role. The rest of the cast is amateurish, but that only increases the sense of strange dread.

Ministry of Fear (1944), Pacific Film Archive

I’ve now seen three World War II thrillers directed by Fritz Lang, all set in Europe but shot in Hollywood. This is easily the weakest (the others were Man Hunt and Hangmen Also Die!). But Ministry of Fear still fun. Ray Milland is freed from an asylum (he assisted his ailing wife’s suicide) and stumbles upon a nest of Nazi spies. The story is set in England, mostly London, and nobody ever explains why Milland speaks with an American accent (’40s American films set in England should be recognized as a major genre). Aside from the hero, you really aren’t sure who’s good and who’s bad.

B- Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Grand Lake Theatre

Like the original, this remake is visually striking, creating an atmosphere of futuristic film noir. But what was new in 1982 isn’t so striking in 2017 – although the film offers an amazingly original sequence of the birth of a replicant. The story brings in some interesting complications concerning human/replicant dynamics, but the movie is too long, too slow, and too filled with pointless plot twists. Finally, I’ve become bored with climactic one-on-one fights that go on and on, even though you know without a doubt that the hero will win.

By the way, the Grand Lake’s Theater 1 is absolutely the best place to see a big Hollywood movie. It’s a beautiful palace, with great sound and projection. Their $5 Tuesday policy is a real money saver.

C- Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931), FilmStruck

F. W. Murnau’s last film is a romantic tragedy shot and set on Bora Bora and another, unnamed Polynesian island. The story is heavy handed and overdone, and it’s easy to guess what’s going to happen next. At its best, Tabu provides a sense of Polynesia as western influences approached, although I’m not sure if it’s accurate. It was supposed to be co-directed by Robert Flaherty, who had far more experience shooting in exotic locations, but Murnau took over completely. Surprisingly for a 1931 movie, it’s silent (with recorded music). There are no intertitles, but a lot of letters, signs, and diary entries help tell the story.

Murnau died from a car accident shortly before Tabu’s premiere.