Monday, April 13, 2009

Movie Review: Carnival of Souls (1961)

Carnival of Souls
CARNIVAL OF SOULS - Surrealistic nightmare horror from Herk Harvey - Movie Poster

Written by John Clifford
Directed by Herk Harvey

Candace Hilligoss .... Mary Henry
Sidney Berger .... John Linden
Frances Feist .... Mrs. Thomas
Art Ellison .... Minister
Stan Levitt .... Dr. Samuels
Herk Harvey .... The Man

A youthful drag race turns ugly when one of the cars loses control on a bridge and plummets down to the river below. Just as the police are sure that all the passengers are as good as dead, a single survivor finds her way to the shore: Mary Henry, an organist who is understandably dazed and confused.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS - Surrealistic nightmare horror from Herk Harvey - Sole survivor Mary Henry

After the trauma of the accident, she desires a change in scenery and accepts a job in Utah, tickling the ivory for a church, despite her apparent lack of faith. When she makes the long drive to her new home, she begins having visions of a tall pale man in a pallbearer's suit, visions which will haunt her throughout the course of the film.

Mary finds a room for rent, settles into her new job and finds herself oddly drawn to the abandoned pavilions just outside of town, just as her sleazy neighbor John Linden is drawn to her. As if dealing with the visions and Linden's potential date-rape mentality weren't enough, she also seems to fade in and out of existence at the drop of a hat. Being a thoroughly modern Millie, she takes up with a psychiatrist who convinces her that it is all her imagination brought on by stress, and it needs to be confronted in order to be stopped. She decides that the pavilions are a good place to start, resulting in some classically creepy carnival scenes but not much in the way of absolution.

In desperation, she flees the town, but it isn't long before the events of weeks past catch up to her.

This cult hit is a very atmospheric time-capsule. Although the acting is a bit rough at times—usually by the bit players—there are some very good camera shots, great use of shadows, and an eerie organ score (isn't all organ music eerie?) The makeup effects obviously inspired the look of the Night Of The Living Dead zombies, and I'd be willing to wager that Stephen King has seen this film more than a few times himself: look for the ghostly gala a la The Shining and the woman-outside-of-time scenes a la The Langoliers. They're not rip-offs by any means, but it's easy to see the influence this film could have had on the genre.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS - Surrealistic nightmare horror from Herk Harvey - The Man

1961
Unrated
78 Minutes
Black & White
United States
English

"Not only do I drink really, I really drink."
--J/Metro

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