on April 3, 2001
I had the great pleasure of seeing Carnival of Souls in its theatrical re-release in the mid-90s. Having seen it on video beforehand, I had some idea of what atmosphere the film created for the viewer. Seeing it in the theatre though was a completely spooky experience! Though the film may not be shocking or especially terrifying by today's standards, it still holds it own as an outre masterpiece of suspense.
A thousand THANK-YOUs to Criterion for bringing it to DVD. What a great package to have both cuts of the film, plus all the extra features (especially the extended montage of outtakes set to that bone-chilling soundtrack!) The documentary featuring the cast reunion is another bonus, as is the very interesting history of the SaltAir Resort from which Herk Harvey took his inspiration for the story.
The film is timeless in its use of stark black-and white, and light and dark to convey the extreme isolation felt by Candace Hilligoss' character, Mary the church organist. The soundtrack is quite eerie and used so effectively.
It is obvious how many "horror" films have been influenced by Carnival of Souls, in particular NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD by George Romero. The jerky/choppy editing style, the b/w photography, hysterical/hyperkinetic acting are all mirrored by so many present-day films. CARNIVAL is and always will be a unique piece of film-making. The excellent presentation on DVD shows it to its best advantage.
6 stars out of 5!!!
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.
on June 16, 2000
The merits of this film are obvious enough to simply summarize: it is the one and only original shoestring budget classic. No, the plot isn't original, but that hasn't stopped others from picking it up and running with it, sometimes in different directions, and sometimes even more successfully (see "Jacob's Ladder" for a deeper, and darker, take). But I doubt that ANYone ANYwhere has made a better film for less money; as someone below wrote, ""Blair Witch", eat your heart out."
And then to have it released on a Criterion DVD, well, it just doesn't get any better than that! OK, we may not need TWO versions, .... And the second DVD isn't just a filler: you get anything and everything you could think of associated with the movie, including "now and then" visits to the film sites, a great hour-long tribute, a history of the film company, stills, probably more than all but the most compulsive fan would want but you won't feel as though you've gotten short-changed! As always, the real reason we love Criterion is the quality of their prints - they are simply THE BEST you are going to see. Anyone who has seen this film on one of its numerous cheapie incarnations on VHS will be ecstatic with this version - you won't believe how superior the picture quality is.
I have to say "get this now, before it's discontinued". This edition can NOT be bettered; you will NEVER EVER see a better version of this classic sleeper.
Now, Criterion, when are you going to release Robert Wise's "The Haunting", hmmmm?
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!
on June 9, 2004
Carnival of Souls is the horror movie Albert Camus might have made. It's a lot like George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead - - black and white, low-budget, a simple horror story that's really about human beings' isolation in their own skins.
The acting ensemble in Romero's film is consistently better, but Carnival of Souls only has one real character, and Candace Hilligoss as Mary is very good. It's probably only her performance that has kept this movie around for over forty years.
It's 1962 in a small town, and two young guys in a hot rod and three young women in another car are drag racing. They get to the bridge outside of town, finally going fast enough to feel alive when . . .
. . . Mary crawls out of the river, covered in mud, the only female survivor. The other two girls paid the price for giving in to the thrill of the boys' challenge.
Seemingly unaffected (almost in the clinical sense of being without affect), Mary follows her plan to go to another small town where she's been hired as a church organist. She doesn't believe in the church, though; she's a musician and playing the organ is just a job.
Mary's drive to her new town is the scariest bit of filmmaking I've seen in a long time.
Trying to settle into her new life, Mary starts to crack up. Besides seeing an apparition connected to an old ruined carnival, Mary is suddenly unable to hear the people around her.
Three men say they want to help her - - a would-be boyfriend who's only interested in sex and leaves her when she lets her despair show, a doctor who violently shakes her and orders her to his office for his expert help, and the minister she works for who fires her when something possesses her and she "profanes" his church with carnival music. Love, science, and God all fail her.
If Mary had only been able to hang on for five or ten years, maybe she would have found more satisfying work, or support from other women, or been stronger herself. In 1962 Mary felt the nothingness eating her alive, but she couldn't see a way out in time. She lost the race.
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."
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 August 28, 2000
This film could stand as proof that style and imagination are more important than money and special effects. Though made on a shoestring budget, this is one of the most eerie and haunting films I've ever come across, the kind of horror movie which really does leave a lasting impression.
Out of three women involved in a car accident, only one survives. After managing to recover and start a new life in the city, the survivor begins to find herself 'cut off' from the world, sometimes finds nobody can see or hear her. These are scenes anybody who has ever felt alienated from society or lost in the world can easily identify with. The film is a wealth of unnerving images, such as the abandoned amusements park and dance hall.
Another memorable aspect of the film is the dark-suited, deathly-faced phantom who seems to lurk in every shadow. Somehow I found him a far more sinister and unnerving presence than Freddy or Jason. It must be the power of the imagination - the psychological threat of danger, what might happen, is far more terrifying than simple acts of blood-letting or violence.
All in all, this film is everything a horror film should be - filled with haunting images, a sympathetic central character and a clever, thought-provoking storyline.
on July 26, 2000
In 1962 when this film was released, it caused enough stir that theatre managers had to offer a disclaimer: no refunds. Seems they were afraid that the ground-breakingly spooky, "psychological" plot would frighten the weak at heart enough to make them leave the theatre.
I'll tell you, though, for a Gen-X viewer in the year 2000 the refund would have been for a different reason. To today's viewer, this film is just plain boring. I found myself watching the film through to its end (not too painful, at only 84 minutes) simply because I was hoping some shocking ending would make it all worth while. (The ending, in 1962, WAS a shocker. But don't expect anything you won't have guessed well in advance.)
If you have an interest in cinematics--makeup, lighting, framing, and other film/theatric techniques--then you may get enough out of this movie to make it worth a purchase. But do yourself a favor and buy the cheap version. The Criterion Collection DVD package, for a whopping $40 retail, offers a Kansas TV station's sentimental, low-budget documentary of the film cast's 27-year reunion, at which they reminisce about how young they were back then, how cold the water was in the river, and how hard it was putting on their own makeup for the film. These are the sorts of reunions I make up excuses not to attend.
Some films can only be appreciated in light of their place in history. Unfortunately, Carnival of Souls is one of these.
on August 14, 2001
My take on Carnival of Souls: The artistic photography shows real insight and ability, the generally excellent Hilligoss performance is mesmerizing, and I think Sidney Berger, Frances Feist and Art Ellison perfectly fulfill their roles. The minor characters are just acting like folk from small town Kansas (or Utah), so don't expect Lee Strasberg graduates. The Gene Moore score is a custom fit, as is the Saltair setting. The script is lightweight in many spots...the idea that the dead could inhabit a different dimension, side-by-side with the living is depicted visually more than by pointless banter. There are some rough spots with jumpy editing and below par dubbing, and the pace is not intended for a viewer wanting Indiana Jones entertainment. But when viewed as a series of parts that may be greater than the whole, "Carnival" is just an amazing, above average, low budget underdog saved from oblivion because enough people...intellectuals and commoners saw there was something different, something not of the commonplace in this film. I recommend the Critereon DVD edition with crystal clear picture...its way better than previous VHS editions.