on March 20, 2004
Carnival of Souls is a movie made, apparently, almost on a whim by two men who never made another feature film and stars an actress who was only in one other minor movie. With that sort of background, the rather unique finished product is maybe not so surprising.What is very surprising is that the movie turned out as well as it did.
Some of the other reviews have compared it to the twilight zone, and that is maybe the closest thing. They are from the same time period and have overlapping themes. The plotting for Carnival, though, is loose and leaves you wondering if there was a point -something you could almost never say about the twilight zone. Is it, like another reviewer stated, a hyper literal portrayal of a woman rejecting all the things that make life worth while and becoming an actual lost soul? I don't know that the movie lets us know enough about Mary to come to that conclusion. (Maybe it's all just a dramatized depiction of an undead beauracrat correcting a paperwork mistake.)
Plot, I don't think, is what this movie should stand or fall on.
Atmosphere seemed to take precedence with the film's creators(the director, Herk Harvey, told his writer, John Clifford, that he didn't care what he wrote about, except that he wanted to make a movie that had dead people dancing under the Saltair dome). From this point of view, I think, the movie is very successful. Carnival effectivly creates a tone of strangeness and dread that is sustained almost throughout it's length. It reminded me much more of the silent film, Nosferatu, than any modern horror movie (the nearly omnipresent pipe organ score might have something to do with that).
Candace Hilligloss, who plays the main character, Mary, does an excellent job in her role as a brittle, eccentric young woman, right down to the hand and body movements. She also has the perfect looks for the part; doe eyed and blond, with long, pale hands that look like they were made for playing music (a church pipe organ, in this instance). It's a pity she wasn't in more movies (she, rather admirably, retired from films to raise her children). Another good actor who went on to do really nothing else on the big screen, Sidney Berger, has the only other very important speaking role in the film. He's also does quite well in a very unsympathetic part as Mary's slimy neighbor.
There's one scene in this movie that really sticks in mind; the one where Mary visits the deserted interior of Saltair for the
first time. The scene has no real action, aside from Mary just walking around, but it's effect is quite eery ( it concludes in an utterly sinister shot, which may possibly have been what Peter Jackson was thinking of in the dead marshes sequence of The Two Towers). What I believe this scene trades on is the strangeness, the unwholesome sensation that comes of being alone in a large, festive, public place. A personal experience of mine which parallels this scene -I'm certain it's part of why this movie had such an effect on me- is my memory of walking around the desserted ruins of the massive, domed Baden Springs luxury resort in Indiana (it's since been gloriously restored, apparently) when I was a kid back in the 80's. I've never quite forgotten the lonely and desolate sensation it inspired.
Having said all that, I don't believe it's a perfect movie by any means. There's bad acting from bit players, at least a few near camp moments, mostly at the beginning (I was nearly expecting, was almost afraid, that the deadly drag race at the start of the movie would veer into a wooden PSA from some beefy sheriff). I think how much of an impact this movie has on you will depend on when you watch it, who you watch it with (watch it alone), and whether you will allow yourself to get caught up in it's mood. There's no real violence, nothing that will involuntarily repulse you. If you want to give it the MST3K treatment, parts of the movie will certainly lend itself to that, or if you sit in front of the television, cross your arms and determine not to let this film get to you, then I think you will very probably stand up unfazed. Speaking personally, I think there are a number of things that I'll never quite look at again in the same light, after seeing this picture.
on September 28, 2003
Carnival of Souls aka "Corridors of Evil", is a crowning jewel in American Cinema. Despite the low budget and poor film quality, this 1962 masterpiece stands as a cult more than 40 years after it's release. Candice Hilligoss' fine performance will overwhelm you as she portrays a character caught in a purgatory between life and death. Her beauty alone will strike the viewer in a way few actresses can. Her physical acting, facial gestures, and line delivery will leave you wondering why this woman did not become a household name like Marilyn Monroe or Raquel Welch.
The story is as simple as it is complex. A woman is an innocent passenger in a car that gets into a drag race with some teenage thugs. The result is her car going over a bridge into a fast running, sandy river. As she crawls out of the wreckage covered in mud, the viewer thinks she has survived, but has she?
Ms. Hilligoss' character is a musician, an organist to be exact who takes a job as a church organist in Salt Lake City, Utah. As she begins her journey she is terrified of images of a phantom of sorts who seems to be seeking her out. Anyone who has driven for an average of twelve hours straight can tell you that driving can take its toll, and the mind can play tricks on a sleepy driver. However, after she checks into her room, she finds the same phantom lurking in the window, then in the hallway. Who is this creature, what does he want, where is he from?
The main point of the film is not horror, but human nature. Are we all alone in this world? Is everyone an island unto themselves. The lesson is thrown upon our character by a minister, a psychologist, and a would be male suitor. They all try to help her in their own way (except the suitor who is only interested in her for a chance to have sex). But our character waves a hand at them all, convinced that she can do it her own way. She is an independent woman who needs no man or companionship; a view that may have gone against society's thinking in 1962.
The male suitor (or 'just your normal guy' as he likes to call himself) is an obnoxious oaf to say the least. His headstrong pursuit of her is only his own selfish desire to have her. He's not an alcoholic he claims, yet he drinks at dawn. He quit college because he doesn't like to learn. This is not an ideal resume for a long term relationship for her or any other woman. When she is truly frightened by the visiting spectre, and she reaches out to him as a last resort for help, he runs. Not wanting to get involved, he was only interested in her for her body and his own sexual desire. Yet another lesson in this film for all the young ladies who care to pay attention.
As the story goes on Candace's soul seems to deteriorate. She slips in and out of reality and a strange sort of parallel world. This dimension looks the same as real life, but she cannot be seen or heard. The department store dressing room for example, shows how the lost spirit must learn that she is no longer of this world, but now belongs in the spirit world, where yet another companion awaits her.
Who is this man that haunts her in visions? We see at the end of the film that they are to be together forever. In the final seen where we see Candace's peek at her after-life. She screams in horror as the ghosts dance eternally as the haunt the carnival. She is finally captured by the ghosts and is spirited away. The police and minister are confused and baffled as her footprints and final body print leads nowhere. The minister gives a knowing look as if he has known all along, but says nothing.
The minister must have known there was something wrong with his new organist when he first met and eventually fired her. She had not the soul of a musician, she only had a knowledge for music. She was told this too by the organ builder in the beginning of the film. When she is possessed in the church and her true musician ship comes out as she plays without control, that is her true spirit, but the misinster fires her for 'blasphony'.
This film cannot be watched once and dismissed. It deserves to be watched over and over again. It is a timeless movie where something seems new every time you watch it. I applaud you 'Carnival of Souls'. One of the greatest movies ever made.
on November 16, 2002
This 1962 black and white cult classic was directed by Herk Harvey during a 3 week vacation. As the film starts out we learn Mary Henry is the only survivor in a car racing accident. The accident doesn't seem to fade her, and she is off for her new job in another city as an organ player in a church. As she drives to the new town she passes an old deserted carnival. Soon after she begins seeing a man following her everywhere, and has other weird things happen to her. She has nightmares, and becomes very paranoid. A doctor thinks all this is a result of emotional trauma from the crash. She doesn't think so. She believes her answer is at the carnival and she goes there to find out.
This film is amazing considering it was shot on a budget less than $30,000 and in 3 weeks. The direction is superb, and cinematography is wonderful. The script is pretty good for 1962, and would foreshadow some films of recent years. The whole film has an eerie atmosphere, with a creepy soundtrack. The only problems are the acting is not great, and on the DVD the audio of the dialog is low. For some the film may be to slow, but if you can handle that, then don't worry. Those are the only problems. If you picture yourself in the woman's situation you will see how frightening this film is. I recommend this to anyone who likes creepy atomospheric intelligent horror. 4 stars. Check it out.
on October 13, 2002
Where the films of H.G. Lewis are interesting today as camp curiosities, industrial filmmaker Herk Harvey's CARNIVAL OF SOULS remains a chilling existential drive-in ghost story. Candace Hilligoss plays Mary Henry, a young girl who survives a waterbound car accident. She promptly leaves her hometown, travelling to Utah, where she has been hired as a church organist. Mary is haunted by visions of a ghostly man (Harvey), and is strangely drawn to an abandoned pavilion where other apparitions seem to congregate. She periodically has strange "spells" in which she can't hear anything but her own voice, and no one around her seems to know she's there. She can't connect with anyone emotionally, including her overly amorous neighbor at the boarding house, the minister of the church where she plays, her landlady, or the doctor who tries to help her. If you've seen any horror films in your life, you've probably figured out the mystery; the plot is very simple, but that's not important. Atmosphere is the name of the game here, and Harvey (directing from a script he co-wrote with friend and fellow filmmaker John Clifford) lays it on thick: the film is eerily photographed; the amateurish performances of most cast members only enhance the dreamlike atmosphere; the all-pipe organ score drones dirge-like non-melodies endlessly throughout, sending chills up one's spine. There are many images in the film that were later copied in other great horror films: Mary emerging from the lake after the accident, covered in mud, looks alot like Carrie covered in pig's blood on prom night; the white face of the mystery man peering up into Mary's window resembles a simliar shot in HALLOWEEN, when Jamie Lee Curtis thinks she sees someone standing in her back yard; and of course the ghouls bring to mind Romero's zombies; I sometimes even wonder if David Lynch might have seen this film. But unlike those films, here we see nary a drop of blood in sight. This film proves that to make an effective chiller, a director need not resort to wall-to-wall gore tactics; in fact, there need not be any onscreen violence in order to generate suspense and atmosphere. Sometimes, violence, even gore, is necessary in a film. But in this case, gore would have destroyed the atmosphere. This is not only one of my favorite horror films, it is one of the best utilizations of a low budget I've ever seen. The incredibly eerie B&W photography, the jittery music, the stilted quality of the dialogue and performances (to some extent unintentional, no doubt)... the mood of this film is its most important asset, and as such, I think every filmmaker interested in working in the genre should take a look and learn. Sure, maybe there a few unintentional laughs here and there, and it isn't exactly horrifying, but overall it leaves you shaken. This will probably not appeal to slasher fans or splatterpunks.
on October 12, 2002
Much has been written about this 1962 classic film and a remake was even made in 1998, but the film still remains an enigma. The lighting, camera work, makeup and music score are all very original and still manage to haunt 40 years after it's release. The remake was a decent idea gone bad. Don't even bother with it.
In 1962, industrial film director Herk Harvey decided to make a horror film. He had previously made about 40 films for school and industry with such titles as: What About School Spirit? (1958), Caring for Your Toys (1954) , Street Safety Is Your Problem (1952) and Your Junior High Days (1961). He enlisted the help of fellow Kansans John Clifford (screenplay) and Maurice Prather (cinematographer) to help him and they recruited local talent to act in the film. The lead character, Mary Henry (played by Candice Hilligloss), only appeared in one other film. Most of the other actors have this movie as their only film acting credit.
There are many dvd releases of this film. Even the cheapest and most no frills copy would be worth owning and watching. The one that stands far above the rest however is the Criterion Collection version. This 2 disk set has an amazing amount of features including a 1989 reunion of the actors, writer, and director, Herk Harvey. It's quite the dvd set and you will know everything there is to know about all of the principles involved. I understand that this also may not be a good thing for some people...
So the basic story is that Mary Henry is involved in a drag race in rural Kansas that results in her car driving off of a bridge into a river. She manages to walk away from the accident, but afterwards she is haunted by a ghoulish looking man. She ends up getting a job as an organist at a church in Salt Lake City but is still seeing the ghoul man. She also starts felling compelled to go to an old, abandoned carnival. This is the basic story and I don't want to give away any more for those of you who have not seen the movie.
This really is a classic and somewhat of a landmark film. After making this film, Herk Harvey and John Clifford continued working for the same industrial film company as if nothing had happened. Over the years the movie started fading away from peoples memory until the advent of VHS tapes. The movie was a popular rental and it developed a cult following which prompted Candice Hilligloss to contact an aging Herk Harvey to try and make a sequel or remake. This fell through but eventually a remake (of sorts) was made titled "Wes Craven Presents: Carnival of Souls". John Clifford has the lead writing credit and at least one actor from the original, Sidney Berger, appears in the remake. But this is not an endorsement to rush out and see the remake. And this is not from some purists viewpoint either. It is simply confusing and nonsensical and resembles the original in title only. As for the original, buy it, watch it, make others watch it.
on September 8, 2002
_Carnival of Souls_ may not be a true film classic (even its director, Herk Harvey, didn't count it among his best work), but it's one of a precious few American films from the early '60s that qualify as serious works of art.
Extras abound on this 2-disc edition, but the most interesting of the lot pertain to the Centron Corporation, an ultra-low-budget production company in Lawrence, Kansas. Most of the crew for _Carnival of Souls_ (including Harvey himself) worked for Centron, which specialized in instructional films for public schools and corporations. As a Centron employee Harvey would eventually direct nearly 400 short films, a few of which are featured here.
The DVD makes the persuasive argument that Harvey's ability to make the most out of extremely limited resources (as he did in _Carnival of Souls_) was a product of his many years as a director for Centron. It also draws attention to the cinematic technique that goes into effective educational filmmaking, no matter how low the budget.
The 2-disc Criterion edition of _Carnival of Souls_ is a must-own for any cineaste who wants to examine the nuts and bolts of the filmmaker's craft. (That said, less devoted cineastes might prefer a rental.) It revives and preserves, in the best manner possible, an artful low-budget horror film with a devoted cult following. More importantly, it also brings attention to a long-neglected piece of American film history. Kudos to Criterion for their excellent efforts.
on June 5, 2002
This film's visual cinematography is STUNNING!
Herk Harvey uses very subtle techniques to show when Candace Hilligoss enters a dimension beyond what we call reality.
He UNDERSTATES all special effects and that means he was a VERY intelligent director who knew exactly what he was doing.
It would have been easy to glob on the special effects (as most sci-fi, horror tripe do/did) but, to his credit, he did NOT give in to the Hollywood formula.
He, himself as "The Man", is VERY spooky and creepy but, all in all, it IS a FUN genre flick.
I just purchased the Criterion version and did not notice ANY of the supposed/proposed "flaws" in the film because I view all movies with the attitude of "Here I am... Entertain me as best you can!" and RIGHT from the start the photography blew me away.
I'm REALLY happy that Herk Harvey, writer John Clifford and all the cast were able to take the accolades when the film was re-released in the theatres and Criterion has done it's usual AWESOME job on the DVD and supplement material!!
on January 26, 2002
One of the most powerful, artistic, and truly terrifying films of all time is an eerie low budget classic, Carnival Of Souls. Produced by little-known filmakers, on a budget of $30,000, Carnival Of Souls is an endearingly eerie and odd horor film. It never stops being creepy, as Mary Henry (Candance Hilligoss), is the only survivor of a fatal car crash. She works as a church organist ("capable of stirring the soul"), who moves from her small town in Kansas, to Salt Lake City, and has the creepiest car ride ever! The radio stations are all the same, a man (director Harold "Herk" Harvey) looks at her in her window, and the strange image of an old, abondened carnival. There's TONS more after the car ride, but it's to terrifying to reveal!
Criterion has turned out a nother DVD masterpiece, and this classic is worthy of it's treatment. It's quite possibly the best film of all time!
P.S. The DVD case is sweet too, and dude, it's a darned double-disc! Also: Get a hold on Criterion's The Blob, and Fiend Without A Face. Two more Cult Classics!
on October 28, 2001
It only takes one word to sum up what makes the low-budget CARNIVAL OF SOULS a great horror film--atmosphere. In their only commercial effort targeted for cinematic distribution, director Herk Harvey and his co-writer John Clifford whip up an ambiguous and unsettling narrative open to many interpretations--social alienation, emotional or mental breakdown, and feminist aggressiveness, to name just a few--and then pepper it with the palpable imagery of death and the afterlife. And just in case the seasoned horror fan isn't unnerved enough, the spookiness is further augmented by a musical score comprised of an ethereal Bach-like organ music. This creates a moody ambiance that reaches a bone-chilling apogee rarely achieved in even some of the more popular horror flicks, and by the time the film arrives at its haunting climax, viewers have sprouted goose bumps aplenty.
The story centers on Mary Henry, a young and ordinary Midwestern girl who is the sole survivor of a deadly auto accident. In an effort to put the tragic accident behind her, Mary takes a job in a town several states to the west. All of her efforts seem for naught, however, when she becomes haunted by spirits who beckon her to join them in a nightly danse macabre. Ultimately, Mary comes full circle when events compel her to return to her hometown and face the truth about her own personal reality.
Wonderful as it is, CARNIVAL OF SOULS is not without its minor production faults. Though actress Candace Hilligoss is outstanding as the pretty yet odd protagonist, many members of the supporting cast are obvious amateurs with little, if any, acting experience. Director Herk Harvey was, by vocation, an industrial filmmaker who often peopled his productions with any "soul" who happened to be at hand, and it seems he adhered to this practice when casting this film. In addition, it is glaringly obvious in some spots that the dialogue looping is either out of sync or is altogether different from the lines actually delivered by the actor. Oddly enough, though, these few faults don't detract in the least from the strong, moody psychological narrative; if anything, they actually add to the surreal and creepy atmosphere.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS is one of those rare low-budget independent films that has risen above its modest beginnings, as well as some of its big-budget contemporaries, to become a cherished and well-respected cinema classic. That it succeeds is a tribute to its creators, a handful of talented people who, against all odds, were determined to realize their artistic vision and to share that vision with the public. And what a delightfully frightening vision it is! A must-see for the serious horror aficionado, and a fun and creepy little curio for movie buffs of any calibre.
on August 30, 2001
Yes, some of the acting is very bad. Yes, some of the sound is not in sync with the picture (a quality, in my mind, which adds to the "out of body" atmosphere.) And yes, some times the organ only sound track can wear a little thin (even though, for the most part, it makes the film.) Yes, this movie has some flaws. That's because it's shot on a budget of $30,000. By guys who made hygeine films for a living. Who also didn't have the cash to pay professional actors. All of these detials are completely unimportant.
To fully experience this film, you have to discover it in the way most of its fans do. On a TV set, in the early hours of the morning, alone, with the volume at an almost non-exsistent level. And it also doesn't hurt to be half way asleep. The scene in which Mary glances "The Man's" face in the window will jolt you awake like nothing else.
Some personal favourite moments: The above mentioned scene in the window of the car. The organ playing scenes ("Profanity! Sacralige!") The scenes in which Mary loses all contact with the world of the living (these sequences caused me nightmares.) Candace Hiligos (a great performance, comparable to the best silent film acting.) And of course, the final "dance of the dead."