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Forgotten Films, Guest Blogger Spot

Delights Of The Carnival

Once again the super-fantastic Lydia Mitchell has provided my blog with a great piece on the 1962 horror feature Carnival Of Souls. So sit back, relax (if you dare) and enjoy another quality guest spot from a fellow horror fan.

If there is one thing I will attest to for the rest of my life, it is the fact that I honestly believe that Carnival of Souls is one of the most beautiful horror films ever made. The black and white drama about a car crash victim haunted by both the accident, of which she is the only survivor, and a strange man was made and released independently in 1962 by producer and director Herk Harvey.

His sole feature, Harvey was a well respected educational, documentary and industrial filmmaker, working for much of his career at Centron Corporation, the forefront studio in that field of filmmaking. Whilst vacationing in Salt Lake City, Harvey came up with the idea for Souls, a slow burning horror film with heart that relied on atmosphere for scares rather than effects.  Driving past the abandoned Saltair Pavilion, he found his perfect location…

Everything about Carnival of Souls is haunting. The way it is shot on black and white stock, the camera angles that look as if the environment is engulfing the lead (just look at the way in which the organ fills up the entire frame and looks like it’s about to swamp over Candace Hilligoss seven minutes in), the way light is used in extremities creating ominous shadows. Then there’s the sound design; moments of absolute quiet, the mournful heavy score of the organ that overpowers all feeling and the disjointed volumes where sound levels haven’t been mixed properly.

There’s Hilligoss’s central performance as Mary Henry; unnerving, anxious and otherworldly. Her character’s scared attitude towards and inability to mesh with humanity as startling as her looks; attractive wide eyes filled with wonder, severe cheek bones and eyebrows that furrow with caution and apprehension…

An apprehension that manifests every time Henry see’s ‘The Man’ (played by Harvey himself), an unkempt ghoulish, pale skinned male who has followed our lead ever since she drove past the Saltair Pavilion. Intruding her thoughts as well as her personal space, Henry begins to slowly lose touch with the world in which she is a part of and those around her. No one believes her and she eventually throws herself into the advances of a fellow roommate at the boarding house she is staying in, an experience that is just as scary and disturbing as those that she believes she keeps seeing…

Carnival of Souls is an absolute gem of a film. Originally unsuccessful when first released, it has since gained a cult following and it’s easy to see why. The film has a duality about it which can see it playing as both a low budget, schlock B-movie feature and as an existential, art house horror masterpiece.

The slow pace and character build is perfectly combined to a fantastic crescendo which see’s a now clichéd ending pack an awfully good and surprising punch. Hilligoss, a method actor trained under Lee Strasberg, is wonderful as Mary, playing the role with a complete lack of soul. Mary is cold, whether she means to be or not, which further adds to her ‘little girl lost’ depiction of a woman trying to find out where she fits in.

A clear and obvious influence on pictures such as Night of the Living Dead and Repulsion through to modern releases like The Sixth Sense, Harvey’s feature deft fully crosses the tightrope between dreamlike ambiance and psychological horror without being in your face about it.

A creepy film with moments that range from eerie (Mary’s trip to the department store), to desperate (Mary’s date with her sleazy neighbour, played brilliantly by Sidney Berger), to scary (The Man appearing in the car window instead of Hilligoss’s reflection), to sheer beauty (the dance of the dead in the Saltair Pavilion is so well executed and memorable), Carnival of Souls is an absolute masterpiece. One of the most unsettling films you will ever watch, it manages to be both an enjoyable watch for fun and offer some interesting debates about the nature of humanity and the soul. If you haven’t seen this film, what are you waiting for? You’ll only ask yourself what took you so bloody long…

Lydia Mitchell



  1. Pingback: ‘Carnival Of Souls’ (1962) review « Lydiarghgrace - August 29, 2012

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