Carnival of Souls (1962)
By: Michael Helms on June 7, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
MRA (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 4:3. English 1.0. 83 minutes
The Movie
Director: Herk Harvey
Starring: Candace Hillgloss, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison
Screenplay: John Clifford
Music: Gene Moore
Tagline: 'A Story So Unusual It Will Burn Itself Into Your Mind'
Country: USA
A year before Blood Feast in another regional US nether-zone where industrial films were also churned out (Kansas), a minimal production crew were hard at work assembling their own vision of horror. With a Twilight Zone handle on the other-worldly, they turned out Carnival Of Souls, a high-quality, low-budget, black and white excursion into the haunted world of professional church organist Mary Henry.

From the minute Mary emerges from a river covered in mud, just after the car she was riding in plunged off a bridge, you're delivered a sense of relief but also one of unease; a duality the film plays up until the final frame. While Mary goes about her business as if the crash never occurred, cracks begin to appear in her reality. It's these 'cracks' that are going to keep you with the film or leave you laughing. Her first vision of a ghostly white face happens during an overnight drive. Even though she's forced off the road it's perfectly plausible to hallucinate on a long drive but what's feeding her obsession with such visions? As Mary attempts to settle into her new job in a new town other events occur that unsettle her momentarily but she strides on until she thinks she's been locked in a dressing room at a department store. Upon getting out everyone ignores her. In the street she is freaked out by a man at a drinking fountain and runs straight into the arms of a doctor to whom she unloads her strange feeling of non-existence. The Doctor challenges her use of imagination and although incensed by his commentary all she can do is give into her obsession with the abandoned fun fair at the end of a local pier. The next day Mary is sacked from her job as a simple rehearsal turns into a full blown freakout. Later, a night out with a neighbour who she's being trying to resist ends disastrously with the man sobered by Mary's reaction to another hallucination and suddenly he's resisting her. The next day Mary attempts to leave town and snaps out of her trance long enough to suffer another hallucination while at a mechanics. Mary does make it out of town but finds herself driving again towards the fun fair at the end of the pier. Here the ghostly denizens give chase, this time actually catching her. Cut back to the intial accident.
Cheapest transfer of the nearest available print completely un-remastered but after some nasty rips mar the opening credits things rapidly get smoother.
Crisp Mono mix punches out an overall eerie sound. Mary's (sometimes blasphemous) organ playing is a great integral piece of the soundscape. The use of sound effects and the lack of any sounds but Mary's voice in several scenes also gives this film a superbly ghostly aural aura.
Extra Features
The Verdict
In Melbourne in the late 80s Carnival Of Souls played the now defunct Longford Cinema just in time to head off it's first official Australian video tape release. I can still hear audience laughter at some of the ghost imagery. Carnival Of Souls might play twice as camp on the big screen but up close and personal it's clear to see the filmmakers inentions were far more serious. It's also a fantastic exercise in low budget ingenuity that goes to show that great work can happen anywhere. Still highly efffective after all these years and definitely worth the viewing effort for anyone even vaguely interested in the horror film.
Movie Score
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