Movie Name: Carnival of Souls
Studio: Herts-Lion International Corp.
Release Date(s): September 26, 1962
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) manages to survive a horrifying wreck when her car plunges into a river during a race. Travelling to Utah to take a job as an organist, she begins to be plagued by visions of a strange man (Herk Harvey) who seems to be following her every move. She also has an attraction to an abandoned amusement park. In addition to visions, she also hears strange music and has periods where she feels no one can see or hear her. As her fear grows, wonders if she is going insane.
Directed by Herk Harvey (who also appears as the spirit haunting Mary), Carnival of Souls was a movie that slowly gained a cult following after little success upon its initial release. The film is in the public domain and can often be found in big multipacks though it has been collected in a nice print by Criterion (Criterion #63).
For today’s audiences, Carnival of Souls’ story might be pretty tame and predictable. It plays like a long episode of The Twilight Zone. The movie’s “surprise” ending can be seen coming a mile away and has very little shock value. I do like how it is handled, but I wish they could have been a bit more vague leading up to it. I imagine that M. Night Shyamalan borrowed heavily from this story for The Sixth Sense, but the difference here is that everyone can see and interact with Mary.
The low budget imagery really works in this film. Harvey Herk saw the abandoned Saltair Pavilion, and it inspired him to incorporate it into the script. The scenes there are very nightmaric and creepy. As the ghosts rise for their dance, it looks great, no matter if it is a clean Criterion version or a dirty cheap version…the grittiness sometimes even helps.
No one in Carnival of Souls is going to win an acting award, but it really doesn’t matter. has to carry the film and in reality she doesn’t. Fortunately, the movie has lots of long scenes with no dialogue so delivery of lines isn’t very important. Acting heavy scenes like the long boring date with her co-tenant John Linden (Sidney Berger) are rough and out of place. Herk is memorable as the haunting ghost and gives a creepy performance (which once again is probably aided by no dialogue).
Carnival of Souls is one of those memorable low-budget movies you will see with imagery that will stick with you. You probably won’t remember much of the middle of the movie, but the beginning and end hold you. You might see it coming, but the twist is clever and worth the ride.