Carnival of Souls (1962)
Director: Herk Harvey
Being the sole survivor of a recent car accident, Mary (Hilligoss) packs her bags and leaves her small town to go play the organ at a church in Salt Lake City. Odd apparitions, weird states of existence, an un-explained attraction to a deserted amusement park and creepy zombies ensue.
This once obscure film has now become a “cult classic”. Upon finally viewing it myself, I came to this conclusion: the movie is the grandfather of many genre offerings. Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead” owes a lot to this baby and the more recent "Jacob’s Ladder", "The 6th Sense" and "Soul Survivors" are also some of this classic’s grandchildren. Dare I say that this flick was ahead of its time?
This low budget effort (30,000$) is an impressive essay in style and atmosphere. Shot in glorious black and white, the film bombards our senses with stylish shots, spooky circumstances and creative play with sounds. Who says you need money to create chilling images? The biggest effect which this film showcases is a creepy dude in a suit wearing too much mascara. Seeing his face appear in the car window (classic scene) or seeing him rise out of the lake worked on me like a charm. To a certain extent, this flick appeals to our most primal fear: being chased by an enigmatic figure.
Now the movie isn’t particularly scary (especially by today’s standards) but it is very eerie. It succeeds at disorienting us by putting us, the audience, into Mary’s predicament. Scenes like the “dance of the dead” in the amusement park or the gripping moments where Mary is totally ignored by the rest of the world were very effective and way spooky. Taking into account that the film was shot in 1962, I couldn’t help but respect its ambition and creativity.
The film’s sole pitfall is that in watching it today, its age is very apparent. I viewed this movie with a very open mind and it still felt quite dated. The pace of the movie is slow and I had trouble relating to the issues of the time (the whole church thing). It also didn’t take me too long to figure out what exactly was going on and I did see the twist-ending coming from miles away.
In the end, “Carnival Of Souls” was still a pleasant artsy horror ride and I recommend it to anyone interested in seeing where some of today’s horror came from. Enter this Carnival…
No gore here but we still get some simple zombie makeup. A lot of mascara was used in this puppy.
Candace Hilligoss (Mary) gives a focused performance as the distant woman grasping to understand what’s happening to her and the world around her. She reminded me of those Hitchcock heroines (like the broad in "Psycho"). Sidney Berger (John) is also dead-on as the horny slime ball; he gives an enjoyable performance and his scenes with Hilligoss are very engaging. Does this guy want to get laid or what!?! Art Ellison (Minister) also does well as the caring minister.
T & A
We get to see Candace Hilligoss in her undergarments and we also get a few shots of her cute toes.
Very impressive. We get stylish shots, dread-filled atmosphere, a brilliant use of sound/silences and it’s all wrapped in morbid black and white.
We get a creepy organ-filled score (by Gene Moore) that fits the movie’s dreamy imagery like a glove.
Criterion Edition DVD
Any fan of the film should get this DVD. Talk about solid!
IMAGE: The film is presented in its original full frame ratio of 1.33:1. Yes, we get some grain and scratches early on and yes, the dubbing isn’t always accurate, but this is the cleanest print you’ll ever see of this film.
SOUND: The flick is presented in its original Mono Sound. The score booms in very clearly but I sometimes had trouble hearing the dialogue. I played with my volume a few times.
EXTRAS: “Criterion” give this film the Royal Treatment. We have the choice of watching the film in its cut Theatrical Version of 78 minutes or its restored Director’s Cut that lasts 83 minutes. Look at everything else this double DVD has to offer!
- The Movie That Wouldn't Die documentary
- 45 minutes of rare outtakes accompanied by Gene Moore's organ score
- Theatrical trailer
- An illustrated history of the Saltair resort in Salt Lake City
- The Carnival Tour: a video update on the film's locations
- Commentary with Director Herk Harvey and Writer John Clifford
- One hour of excerpts from films made by the Centron
- An essay on the history of Centron from Ken Smith's Mental Hygiene
- Printed interviews with Harvey, Clifford, and star Candace Hilligoss, illustrated with vintage photos and memorabilia
This DVD is jam-packed! Nice work, Criterion!
"Carnival of Souls" is a dated yet fascinating horror effort. The pace is slow but the film’s ideas and its nightmarish ambiance make up for it. Give this one a try and see where many of today’s genre filmmakers found their inspiration.
The original distributor chopped the film down in order for it to be shown at double features.
In the film's final shot, one of the "dead" chicks in the car twitches her left eye. That kind of tarnished the moment for me.
The film was loosely and poorly remade in 1998.
George Romero admitted to being influenced by the film before shooting "Night of The Living Dead".