October 24, 2009

Carnival of Souls (1962)

I HAD HEARD ABOUT Carnival of Souls as being basically a creepy, nightmare-inducing film with little to no plot.

So when I saw the DVD on sale for a buck at my local library, I figured I had very little to lose…

After a car full of friends plunges off a bridge into a river, sole survivor Mary (Candace Hilligoss) emerges miraculously from the water three hours later, seemingly unharmed. As Mary tries to settle in to her new job as an organist at a Utah church, she’s hounded by a ghoulish presence who’s somehow tied to an abandoned carnival pavilion near the boarding house where she’s staying.


47 years after its release, Carnival of Souls’ rep as “no plot, lotsa creepy” is still largely accurate. Director Herk Harvey fills his film with lots of creepy, disturbing imagery, using such techniques as spooky people staring into the camera (Harvey uses lots of POV), long shots (interior and exterior) of abandoned or empty buildings, quick zooms, sped-up film, and trippy camerawork.

Carnival also features an ominous, piercing church-organ musical score by Glen Moore (no coincidence that Mary is also a church organ player). Its omnipresence in the film will either give you the willies or get on your nerves.

Yet while many of Carnival’s images and sounds are indeed nightmarish, they’re not enough to carry a thin plot hobbled by poor acting that alternates between hokey and stiff. It also doesn’t help that Hilligoss’ Mary is an introverted, cold, and largely unlikeable protagonist. She’s hard to empathize with as she tries to flee the apparitions that are chasing her. By the end, you don’t really care what happens to her – you selfishly just want closure as the viewer.

Depending on your mood, Carnival of Souls will either come off as super-creepy or a candidate for Mystery Science Theater 3000. By the last 20 minutes, I was growing impatient and wanted it to end – which it did, with a WTF moment that forced me to reevaluate everything that happened earlier.

If you’re a fan of classic horror, see Carnival of Souls just to say you saw it. The creepy, nightmarish moments are worth witnessing…just don’t expect a masterpiece.


Will your kids want to watch it?
I can’t imagine today’s kids being drawn to a black-and-white spooky movie made nearly a half century ago. Even if they are, I’d keep Carnival of Souls away from children under 10. The creepy imagery and music can cause nightmares in adults, let alone kids.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a horror buff, she should see Carnivals of Souls because of its place in horror film history. But otherwise, it’ll either frustrate her or scare her, a lose-lose (or maybe lose-win?) proposition for you.

No no, don’t slide over, it’s okay…I’ll wait for the next bus.

Carnival of Souls
• Director: Herk Harvey
• Screenwriter: John Clifford
• Stars: Candice Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger
• MPAA Rating: PG

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Luke said...

I heard that this movie 'inspired' Night of the Living Dead.

Jeff Allard said...

I'm a fan of Carnival of Souls but it's definitely not for everyone. I was lucky enough to see it in theaters when they rereleased it in 1989 on the arthouse circuit and it's eerie atmosphere played great on the big screen.

Geof said...

Great review, FF. I love this film. A true classic in my book. The remake...not so much.

Rocket said...

Your Review Is Right On Target!
A Must See!


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