Carnival of Souls
Special Edition, The Criterion Collection
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Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) survives a drag race in a rural Kansas town, then takes a job as a church organist in Salt Lake City. En route, she becomes haunted by a bizarre apparition that compels her to an abandoned lakeside pavillion. Herk Harvey's macabre masterpiece gained a cult following on late night television and has been bootlegged for years. Made by industrial filmmakers on a modest budget, "Carnival of Souls" was intended to have the "look of a Bergman" and "feel of a Cocteau," and succeeds with its strikingly-used locations and spooky organ score.
An ultra-cheap B-horror movie, filmed in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1962, with a really creepy Twilight Zone-style premise and some great shoestring atmosphere. Wandering into a small town after an auto accident, to begin her new job as a church organist, young Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) begins to pick up strange vibes: none of the normal people in town seem to be able to see her, and she keeps being accosted by freakish pasty-faced types who seem to be dead on their feet. The nightmarish finale benefits from its one-of-a-kind "found" setting, an empty amusement park rising like a ghostly castle from the prairie landscape. This is much less aggressive and violent film than George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, but for sheer skin- crawling spookiness, it's in the same class. --David Chute --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Editorial Reviews
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This single Carnival Of Souls (1962) DVD contains both the original black-and-white movie and a colorized version as well. If you're in the mood for color, watch the color version. If you want the black-and-white original, it's here, too. When it comes to cult classics of the horror genre, I lump Carnival Of Souls into the same category as Night Of The Living Dead (1968). This movie had an extremely low budget - it was made for $30,000, or $17,000, depending on the source. Whatever it was, it was dirt cheap to make. But in my opinion, sometimes low budget movies are better than the polished big budget movies with top-of-the-line actors and special effects. When it comes to horror movies, a small amount of money can produce the same desired result as big budget movies, which is to scare the audience. The goal is to create an eerie and spooky and scary atmosphere that taps into a person's feelings of fear. You really don't need a lot of money to accomplish this. A lot of low budget B horror movies are very effective. Carnival Of Souls is one of them.
This movie was shot in Lawrence, Kansas and also at the Saltair Pavilion amusement park in Salt Lake City, Utah. This movie stars Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry, a church organist who survives a car accident in which her two girl companions died. Throughout the movie, she often sees the ghostly image of a man (played by director Herk Harvey) practically everywhere she goes. This man seems to be haunting her. Nobody else but her sees this man. It isn't long before she seems to become non-existent to the people around her, all of whom don't see or hear her. Mary seems to be scared of unknown forces throughout the movie. It also seems as if what is living and what is dead is a blur to her. She can't tell the difference. She basically is caught between the living and the dead. She is even haunted by her own organ music, which changes from happier tones early in the movie to more sinister and darker tones while she's practicing at the church one night. It seems as though ever since she saw the Saltair Pavilion for the first time, she became drawn to it. The end of the movie has a bizarre ending that I won't reveal. Watch it to find out what happens.
This movie's score is 100% theater organ, performed by Gene Moore. That's it - an organ. The organ music is eerie throughout the movie and seems to be off key a lot of the time (intentionally, of course) and has an underlying, subtle carnival melody during a lot of the scenes at the pavilion. I must say I'm surprised that Candace Hilligoss only appeared in one other movie (The Curse Of The Living Corpse in 1964). She is nice looking, has very good screen presence, and can act pretty well.
This movie can be classified as having subtle, atmospheric psychological horror. This movie has no blood and gore. Instead, the music, camera angles, lighting, howling winds, shadows, moonlight, clouds, and feeling of emptiness make this movie creepy.
This movie has been influential to many horror movie makers, including George Romero, David Lynch and John Carpenter. Notice how the ghoul (the man who keeps haunting Mary) appears in windows and then disappears. Michael Myers does the same thing in Halloween (1978).
The audio commentary by Mike Nelson of TV's "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is obnoxious and useless. He's a funny guy, but his commentary is pointless for this DVD release.
Do you like low budget B horror movies that are influential cult classics? Do you like simplicity when it comes to horror movies? Do you like horror movies involving carnivals? If so, then check out Carnival Of Souls and buy this DVD where you get both black-and-white and color.
That one brilliant movie is cult horror flick "Carnival of Souls," a nightmarish tale of a young woman who is lingering on in the world of the living -- and is pursued by the dead. Made for a piddling seventeen thousand dollars, this little gem is as eerie now as it was in the 1960s.
Three young women decide to drag race a car of young men -- and their car goes off a bridge into the river. Only Mary (Candace Hilligoss) staggers out of the water, seemingly undisturbed by the accident. The next day she travels to Utah for her new job as a church organist, but on the trip she keeps seeing a grinning, corpselike man watching her from the road.
Mary tries to distract herself with shopping, dodging her lecherous neighbor, and playing the organ. But she keeps seeing the corpse-man), having strange moments where nobody can see or ear her, and also finds herself drawn to a run-down former carnival pavilion. As the dead close in on her, Mary runs from them... but she can't escape from them forever.
A simple plot, but Herk Harvey handles it with brilliant skill. There's a goofy moment here or there -- at one point Mary turns around to shriek into the camera lens. But most of the time, Harvey keeps the atmosphere piling on, with relatively little dialogue (the most memorable lines are usually shrieked ones like "I don't want to be alone!").
In short, Harvey had the ability to inspire something a lot rarer than fear or shocks -- dread. Mary's confusion, fear and denial are almost palpable as she wanders through the town. By the climax, it has transformed into a sort of nightmarish maze that Mary can just run through, with the dead people just a few steps behind her. And there's that creepy organ music all the time.
The ending is not so much a twist as the inevitable answer to all the bizarre events that came before it -- and it's a brilliant, bittersweet ending. It was also the ending that has inspired creepy horror movies ever since. Suddenly the "invisibility" moments and the dead faces make perfect sense, and we understand what it is that Mary is really running from.
Mary is also not your typical early-sixties heroine -- she's sharp-tongued ("Thank you, but I'm NEVER coming back here") and kind of spinsterish by nature. What's more, she is completely detached from everyone around her, since she is not meant to be in the world of the living. Hilligoss (who only made one other movie) is absolutely amazing here, with her distant attitude and frightened eyes.
If you're willing to shell out for it, the Criterion version of "Carnival of Souls" is the one to get, especially since it includes both versions of the movie, nicely restored (if you don't have much money, try Alpha). When it first came out, five minutes were chopped off, and here the second disc contains those five extra minutes, reinserted. Nothing groundbreaking, but these little moments of utter creepiness add to the atmosphere.
Additionally, Criterion loads it up on fan-friendly extras -- galleries, interviews, company stills, tours of the Kansas town where it was shot, and other little goodies. The documentaries about the making of the film and its history are the highlight of the extra material, and this is mainly for the diehard fan.
Brilliant and creepy, "Carnival of Souls" is a deserving cult classic. It's a shame that Herk Harvey never made another horror flick, but at least we have this one.