The Carnival of the Dead:

Roger Corman’s own Sideshow of Horrors.

 

Ruben De Somer

 

Roger Corman has been around for eons so it seems. This American writer and motion-picture director is known for numerous sensationalistic films made with a genuine technical proficiency. He gathered critical acclaim with his renditions of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories. 

Born in 1926 he was born in a time when carnivals and sideshows still had their oddities and a whole bunch of non-mechanical games, the good ole days one could say.

 

His very first link with the sideshow scene was “The little shop of horrors” where a small tiny plant turns into a living flesh eating plant. The living creature draws in crowds of people all there to gaze at the next “wonder of the world”. Probably this was his very first exposition of oddities, a first reliving of some of his childhood carnival memories.

 

However in his 2005 movie “Land of the dead” he goes one step further and you could even say goes almost all the way to show how the ancient sideshow connects up with the modern “freakshow”. Land of the dead is a sequel to his renowned zombie trilogy and features thousands of zombies yearning for the flesh of the living that have all fled to a city on an island where they can be save, yeah right.

 

In the movie one of the main characters, Denbo visits, an entertainment centre which seems a combination of a casino and a carnival. A clear link is made here with the modern Las Vegas showings of “Shock” a spin off of the Jim Rose circus sideshow featuring “Zamora” the torture king. Chihuahua, a role of Phil Fondacaro[1], runs the “entertainment” center. The name of this character is a clear reference to his size, because he’s a “little person”.

 

The carnival aspect is also present because instead of having your picture taken while you are standing behind a wooden board painted with an odd figure painted on it, people can have their picture taken with a zombie. The zombies in the scene also seem to have replaced the freaks. The zombies are also used in target games and as fighters.

 

Another “freak” reference is that one of the supporting characters of the movie, one of Riley’s his buddies, has a deformed face and is treated by most of the other characters as a freak. However the deformity wasn’t created by a genetic fault but by a fire. Nevertheless the people’s reactions in the movie are the same as those of many modern people, disgust and a feeling that people with a disability should be kept locked up, hidden away from “the normals”. However it makes me wonder who is the freak now?

 

In short we can say that Roger Corman has looked back at the past and has hooked up with the present.

 


[1] Most of the time he is cast as an annoying midget, a role which he seems to master very well.

 


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