Carnival of Souls


Action / Fantasy / Horror / Mystery


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1hr 18 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by TheMarquisDeSuave 10 / 10

Most Resourceful Modest Budget Horror

The film is so engaging that you manage to overlook the flaws while you're watching it. Sure some of the acting and editing are below par, but you don't realize that fact until after the film is done. During viewing you get caught up with the story, and Hillgoss' performance. Mary didn't have to be multi-dimension, but Hillgoss' performance makes her so. She is cold, alone, and isolated from the world. She has no friends, and doesn't feel the need for any. Despite the coldness of her character, you feel sympathetic for her and even begin to hope she gets out okay. Due to her lack of companionship, she eventually turns to the chauvinistic man who lives across from her. This is another interesting character, one who obviously lusts for Mary but doesn't know how to express his feelings, and it seems if it wasn't for the censorship at the time, he could've become more fleshed out. As another reviewer noted, he is obviously on the verge of rape and is emotionally abusive.

The story is simple, yet it grabs you by the throat and refuses to give up until the film is over. A woman bizarrely comes out of water three hours after an accident occurred. How did this happen? As she tries to get away as far as possible from the incident, strange events continuously occur and she finds herself drawn mysteriously to an abandoned carnival. Also, a strange specter appears constantly. Is this a human stalking Mary? Or is it something supernatural or of the psyche? No one else can see him. Things continue to get worse and worse, and many times Mary is unable to communicate or hear the people around her, yet strangely it goes back to normal within moments. The film's ending is slightly predictable, but suiting. Something more flashy would've destroyed the feel.

As many have noted, this isn't a technically flawless film. But you get so sucked in by the film it isn't until the ending that you realize some of the flaws. For one the editing isn't the greatest, but you must remember that the crew had an obscenely low budget to work with. It wasn't for lack of talent, it was for lack of resources. Also some of the supporting actors aren't very good, but again the film is so low-budget that it would've been impossible to pay better performers. Did you really expect to see Oscar winners in a b-film anyways? There are several aspects that easily trump the mild flaws. For one, the camera work is incredible, on par with many Hollywood films. The angles of the organ were particularly affecting, and the upward shots of the ghouls gave you the feeling of helplessness that Mary feels. Also, Hillgoss' performance is, as I stated above, very good. She manages to make a cold and isolated character human and sympathetic instead of the cardboard stereotype that haunts most films of the nature. The actor who plays the neighbor isn't the best, but his character is certainly interesting, a perverted peeping tom that if the film had been made ten years later would've surely been more developed. Also, the crudeness of the acting adds to the feel. Due in fact that Hillgoss provides the only good acting in the film, you get the feeling that something isn't right. The lack of development for almost every other character adds to the dreamlike quality. When was the last time you had a nightmare in which the other people involved where fleshed out.

The most impressive aspect is Harvey's direction. He knew how to make something out of absolutely nothing, and it certainly shows. The angles and pacing are some of the film's benefactors. And the dream sequences and sped-up carnival footage are nothing short of breathtaking, showing his masterful Harvey was. It's a shame he never made another film, but than again if you make only one film, why not have it be a masterpiece? "Carnival of Souls" transcends its limitations. It contains no special effects for the most part, and very minimalist makeup. It shows that imagination is what makes a film work, not flashy dynamics and special effects. Due to this, many fans of newer horror films will not appreciate its genius. For fans of cult films and surrealist films will be impressed. The latter camp will be amazed how the film is very avant-garde despite no budget to work with. The film is one of the ultimate cult films. Ignored when it came out, only decades later was it appreciated on its rerelase in 1989. The same thing happened with "Reefer Madness", "Glen or Glenda", and "Spider Baby". That is, in my opinion, is one of the factors that makes a film a cult film, definitely more so than if the film is just a sleeper hit. Even if it didn't have the cult following, this is still a film that must be seen. It never outright scares you, but it gets under your skin. It leaves a lasting impression, and I guarantee you'll not forget it for the rest of your life. (10/10)

Reviewed by aimless-46 10 / 10

Way Ahead of Its Time

"I don't belong in the world….something separates me from other people" says Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) in perhaps the most lyrical horror film ever made. It is the unlikely 1962 masterpiece "Carnival of Souls" which philosophically fleshes out the premise of "Twilight Zone's" "The Hitch Hiker" episode (January 1960). The one where Inger Stevens (as Nan Adams) plays a young woman driving cross country who keeps passing the "same" man standing by the side of the road. Its masterpiece quality was unlikely because it was the low budget first feature film of Herk Harvey (a director of educational short films), using actors with little acting for the camera experience, and with a story structure adapted to fit sets and locations to which Harvey had free access.

One of these locations was an organ factory. This not only dictated the film's unique and beautiful score but it suggested a profession for the main character (Mary Henry), a church organist. With this they really got lucky because it brings in many disturbing religious images and undertones. A church organist seemingly possessed by her instrument, as her playing alternates between the spiritual and the profane, deeply disturbs her wrapped-too-tight" minister who would have benefited from Pollyanna's advice about the "rejoicing texts". The organ factory also serves nicely for a Carol Reed-type angular shot with the huge organ pipes in the foreground and the diminutive figure of Hilligoss far below. This early shot sets the existential tone for what will follow. Finally, there is the moment when she is alone on the highway and her radio will only pick up organ music.

The other location is the abandoned Saltair Pavilion outside Salt Lake City. Much of the story takes place here as Mary Henry is mysteriously drawn to the place. Watch for this shot of her in front of a promotional poster for the Pavilion, on the poster is a look-alike blonde with the same hairstyle. Since the late 19th century, Saltair had been a family swimming/recreational facility built out into the Great Salt Lake. The huge pavilion looks like a strange cross between an Eastern Orthodox church and an Arabian Nights palace. The falling lake level doomed the swimming feature but the place operated as an amusement park until abandoned five years before the filming of "Carnival of Souls". At the time of filming the actual pealing paint, broken glass, collapsed staircases, and general disorder made for a better location than even the best production designer could have constructed. It also works well from a "language of film" symbolic perspective as Mary is shown walking through an unnatural circular passage, which reinforces other subtle off-kilter elements that occur throughout the film.

While much of the film's texture was the happy result of the low budget necessity of using these available locations, the casting of Hilligoss worked out even better. Probably cast because she was the most beautiful actress available for the price, Harvey hit a home run because she brings exactly the right sterile and distanced qualities that the film needs in its main character. Hilligoss might have been an acting-for-the-camera novice but she had extensive stage experience. Harvey was able to get an extraordinary nonverbal performance from her, unexpectedly taking the film deep into the concept of human alienation. Much like "The Incredible Shinking Man", with its existential theme of separation from society, "Carnival of Souls" also transcends its genre and explores the isolation of someone who feels they no longer belong. And like "TISM", the resolution is the realization that loss of identity is freedom, that the infinite and the infinitesimal are the same, that you are not alone because you are a part of something bigger.

The two occasions where Mary Henry suddenly becomes invisible to everyone are much more vivid because Hilligoss is so beautiful. Unlike a person of average appearance, an especially beautiful woman walking down the street is used to drawing stares from virtually everyone. For such a person the phenomenon of sudden invisibility would be far more jarring than for those who are used to not being noticed in the passing crowd.

For budget reasons, egg white was used on the faces of the "dead" cast members, including Harvey himself who plays Mary's recurring apparition. This has an especially eerie effect with black and white film and would be adopted a few years later by George Romero for "Night of the Living Dead".

Educational film veteran Frances Feist plays Mary's cherubic landlady and John Linden plays her slimy (on the make) neighbor. Both are excellent, and the disjointed and stilted acting style of their scenes with Hilligoss will remind many viewers of David Lynch's "Eraserhead".

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Reviewed by Scott Murray (Django-21) 10 / 10

The ultimate cult horror masterpiece

I love this film! It's one of my all time favourite movies and I'd rate it as a deservedly acclaimed cult classic and the eeriest, most strangely compelling, most unforgettable and greatest horror movie of all time.

The camera work is beautiful. The organ music, creepy carnival and director Herk Harvey as the figure of Death are all unforgettably eerie. The first time I saw this film (I had already read about it's making in an issue of Fangoria) was on BBC2's Moviedrome introduced by Alex Cox (himself the director of Repo Man, the lacklustre and innacurate Sid & Nancy and the amazing Well Did You Evah music video. On watching the film I was captivated and fascinated and ultimately at the film's conclusion had a strange feeling of deja vu, as if I'd seen it before in a dream or something, long ago.

There are a number of surreal and creepy scenes in the film. The scene where Mary (Candace Hilligoss) goes to the abandoned carnival during the day has a surreal, dreamlike and sensual beauty. Whereas the later scenes

of Mary playing the church organ and seeing in her mind, the dead rising from the sea and the film's carnival/beach conclusion are at once dreamlike and yet somehow documentarylike at the same time. It's unforgettable imagery like this that makes this film such an unforgettable experience. On the other hand, the drunk lodger's attempts to seduce Mary are amusing and some of her biting dialogue and sarcasm helps keep the non horror moments entertaining. The film is also notable for having a clear influence on

films and filmmakers like George A Romero's classic "Night Of The Living Dead" (another 60s b/w horror classic) and David Lynch (compare Herk Harvey's ghoul with Killer Bob's surreal and frightening appearances at unexpected times in Twin Peaks). Be warned however, once you experience the dreamlike qualities of this eerie masterpiece, I can't

guarantee you'll ever awake from it.

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