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on May 14, 2004
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film
This film is one of the best known of classic horror films of th early 1960's. This film has hitchcockian elements and even can remind one of Shyamalan's film, "The Sixth Sense"
The story follows a young Kansas woman who survives a tracic car accident, she later moves to Salt Lake City Utah to be a church orgainist (at a non-Mormon chruch.) While driving there, she passes the old Saltair resort, recently abandoned. She feels an overwhelming compulsion to go closer but does not yet do so. She later has visions of a man who seems to be caling her to the resort. Later she enters an unusual state of mind where noone else can see or hear her. I don't want to say anything else as it would be a spoiler. The movie is filmed on location at the Saltair pavilion. At the time it held the largest indoor ballroom ever built. It since was destroyed by fire but another was built and later flooded.
The film has many special features.
2 versions of the film. The theatrical version and the Director's cut. The director's cut has optional partial length audio interviews with some of the film crew.
Disc 1 has
An illustrated history of the Saltair resort on the lake shore. Theatrical trailer, Outtakes of filming, a vidoe update on filming locations, and a documentary on the 1989 reunion of cast & crew.
Disc 2 has
Interviews with members of the cast and crew, and an Essay on the film's production comapny, Centron.
It also has 5 short documentary films made by the movie's production company Centron.
Star 34; A docudrama about tourism in Kansas
Signals: Read 'em or Weep; a saftey film for the Caterpillar Tractor company
To Touch a Child; a documentary about the school system in Flint Michigan.
Jamaica, Hati, and the Lesser Antilles; a documentary film on the afforementioned countries.
Korea: Overview; a documentary film on Korean culture.
This DVD set was one of the most comprehensive released by Criterion at the time of it's release.
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on March 29, 2004
Even being a fan of horror films, I never knew about this great film until the mid-90's. The Sci-Fi Channel was having nightly film festivals in October leading up to Halloween and when I saw the promo for Carnival of Souls, it gave me chills. The next night I watched (and taped) it, and have viewed it many, many times since.
Nothing conveys terror like atmosphere and things barely seen. Director Herk Harvey, whose previous film experience was almost entirely in industrial films, captured these important aspects perfectly. In the supplemental materials on the Criterion DVD, he explains how the sight of the old Salt Lake bath house became the base for this film. When you see the old bath house, it is at a distance at first, in the evening, draped in shadows. You wonder "What is in there? Is it empty? Or could something else be there that shouldn't be?"
In the film, Mary Henry (played by Candace Hilligoss) is the sole survivor of an auto accident. Afterwards she leaves Kansas to take a job in Salt Lake City, Utah. As she nears Salt Lake, she sees, in the distance, the shadowy hulk of an old pavilion on the lakeshore. She begins seeing images of a pale faced man (played by director Harvey) appearing and disappearing outside her car, in her boarding house, outside her window, etc. The film deals with her attempts to come to terms with this vision, her sanity, her brush with death, and what role the old building (a former bath house, carnival, and dance hall) has to do with it all.
The film looks crisp and clear, even in night scenes. No surprise, also, that it has an industrial film feel to it at times. The acting is good, but not great. Then again the occasional stiffness of some characters adds to Mary Henry's feeling of disconnect with the living world. The townspeople have barely more life in them than the pale "zombies" that rise from the lake. Mary's job as a church organist allows for a soundtrack full of pipe organ music that morphs from inspirational to horrific. It is quite effective and adds to the already dreamlike quality that oozes from the film.
The Criterion DVD comes with 2 discs including the original director's cut and the theatrical versions. Extras include a booklet, a photo gallery and history of the bath house, and a panel interview at a convention featuring Herk Harvey (wearing his ghostly make-up no less!), Candace Hilligoss, and Sidney Berger, who played Mary Henry's (...) drunken neighbor.
People spend millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars trying to scare you, and almost always fail. Carnival of Souls succeeds and on a tiny budget. There is a reason that this small film from 1962 is still a cult favorite today. It works. It's scary. It will creep you out. Buy it, rent it, just watch it!
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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.
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on December 23, 2003
I've bought 6 movies in the past few weeks: Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring, Island of the Dead, Evil Dead II, & Dreamcatcher & this is my favorite, second only to LOTR.
Candace Hilligoss is excellent & why she never became better known is beyond me. She is a far, far better actress than 90% of the rest of the actors & actresses from her era. She's not bad looking either. She only made one other movie - Curse of the Living Corpse. Someone please find me Curse of the Living Corpse I've got to see this woman again.
Carnival of Souls is a link between the horror movies of the 1930s & the 1970-80s. George Romero (Night of the living Dead) & Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series) owe this movie a hugh debt in my opinion. There's also a scene very similar (to me anyway) to one in LOTR when Frodo & Sam are making their way thru the swamp with Gollem & Frodo looks into the water. This isn't Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street (in my opinion it's much better than either of these) but it is a very good suspenseful, semi-scary movie. 4 stars.
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on October 27, 2003
CARNIVAL OF SOULS is certainly a movie that was WAY ahead of it's time. Released in 1962, it left audiences bewildered, blankly staring ahead. Today, it fits right in! A woman named Mary (the stunning Candace Hilligoss) and her friends decide to drag race with a carload of guys. The girls are forced over the side of a very narrow bridge, plunging into the lake below. Mary rises from the depths, covered in mud, the sole survivor. Or is she? She moves to Utah where she gets a job playing the pipe organ in a church. Slowly, bizarre things start happening. She keeps seeing a sinister looking man (played by director Herk Harvey), first in her car window. Then, all over the place! She also slips in and out of a sort of dream state, wherein no one notices or hears her talking to them. Mary is also obsessed with an abandoned carnival she drove past. The atmosphere grows creepier by the minute! Is she alive? Dead? Somewhere in between? Candace Hilligoss only did one other film in her career (CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE by Del Tenney). In my opinion, this is to hollywood's shame! She is brilliant in SOULS! Buy this classic immediately...
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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