Carnival Of Souls

"Good"

Carnival Of Souls Review


Herk Harvey spent nearly his entire directing career toiling in the gratification-free world of corporate industrials and educational movies. (His first credit was a short about grammar titled Why Punctuate - which, you'll notice, needs a question mark.) But in 1962, sometime between making How to Succeed in School and Pork: The Meal With a Squeal, Harvey decided to use some vacation time to make a low-budget horror feature. Just about everything on the surface of Carnival of Souls screams B-movie trash: It has stilted dialogue, cheap special effects, crummy sound editing, and a plot that only just barely hangs together. But there are lots of scenes and shots that reflect real brilliance, and that's earned the movie a cult following, not to mention a Criterion Collection spine number. It's still strictly the stuff of late-night creature features, but it's got an admirable, workmanlike pace, some real scares, and enough smarts to shut up the mouthy robots of MST3K.

That said, the plot's crap. Candice Hilligoss plays Mary, a young blonde who miraculously escapes from a car that's fallen off a bridge and into a river after a drag race. She leaves town shortly after the accident to take a job as a church organist in Utah, but something's wrong: While on the road and in her new city she has visions of a man (played by Harvey himself) with a ghostly face and dark scary eyes. That freaks out Mary quite enough, but she also discovers that she occasionally becomes invisible to those around her, and that she's strangely compelled to visit an abandoned amusement park by a lake, populated by more ghouls. Despite the best efforts of the church priest (Art Ellison) and her would-be hepcat neighbor, John (Sidney Berger), Mary slowly loses it, propelling the film to its way-creepy twist ending - whose logic completely collapses under the weight of two seconds of thought.

So what's to get excited about? For one thing, making Mary's character a church organist is a shrewd move - it gives Harvey an excuse to give some added energy to scenes where Mary's contemplating her weird fate, and his shots of the whole organ and of the church's stained glass are remarkably elegant and well-composed for making-out-at-the-drive-in fare. (There's a particularly nice edit where Mary turning a key in a car ignition switches to her pushing an organ stop.) Some real effort went into making the scenes at the amusement park as off-kilter as possible - though the outside of is lovely and twilit, the inside of a dance hall is filled with waltzing zombies, and Harvey does a nice job of making the place feel genuinely otherworldly.

The dialogue isn't much to speak of, which is a compliment with movies like these: For a flick with a non-existent budget (well, $30,000) and relative amateurs in front of the camera, everybody's lines are practically howler-free. Relative positives like that prompted a few critics to get overheated with their praise of Carnival of Souls - one critic found a way to name-check Dreyer, Antonioni, and Bergman into one sentence of his review - but it's certainly rare to see scary movies that work with as much grace and intelligence as this one.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 78 mins

In Theaters: Friday 2nd November 1962

Budget: $30 thousand

Distributed by: Herts-Lion International Corp.

Production compaines: Harcourt Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 26 Rotten: 5

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry, as Mrs. Thomas, Landlady, as John Linden, Art Ellison as Minister, Stan Levitt as Dr. Samuels, Tom McGinnis as Organ Factory Boss, Forbes Caldwell as Organ Factory Worker, Dan Palmquist as Gas Station Attendant, Bill de Jarnette as Mechanic, Steve Boozer as Chip, Man at Juke Box, Pamela Ballard as Dress Sales Lady, Larry Sneegas as Drag Racer, Cari Conboy as Lake Zombie, Karen Pyles as Dress Store Customer, T.C. Adams as Dancing Zombie, Sharon Scoville as Mary's Girlfriend, Mary Ann Harris as Mary's Girlfriend, Peter Schnitzler as A Walking Corpse, Bill Sollner as Lake Zombie, Reza Badiyi as Bus Ticket Customer, Ed Down as Man At Bridge, as 'The Man', Wayne Shmille as Sheriff At Bridge

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