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  • Writer's pictureAllan Major

Carnival of Souls 1962 Reviewed

Featured Image For Carnival of Souls 1962 Reviewed.  Poster for 'Carnival of Souls' depicting a man staring ahead as ghostly figures dance ominously around him.
When the carnival comes to town, the veil between worlds is lifted in 'Carnival of Souls,' where spirits waltz through the night, beckoning you to join their macabre dance.

Let's talk about movies that worm their way into your head, that cast a lingering, disquieting spell long after the credits fade away. Like a dusty carnival ride creaking into motion, there's something captivating about the unsettling allure of the outsider film – the one that missed the fanfare of mainstream recognition, yet carves its own jagged niche in the collective cinematic consciousness. "Carnival of Souls" is one such film.

Key Takeaways From This Film

  • Atmosphere is key: The film proves that you don't need elaborate special effects or excessive gore to create a genuinely unsettling horror experience. The use of stark black-and-white photography, the eerie organ score, and the isolated locations build a powerful sense of dread.

  • The power of the unseen: "Carnival of Souls" excels at suggesting horror rather than explicitly showing it. The ghoulish figure stalking Mary is rarely seen clearly, making him all the more terrifying. The film leaves much to the viewer's imagination.

  • Psychological Horror: While the film has supernatural elements, it also delves into themes of trauma, isolation, and a possible mental breakdown. Mary's struggles to connect with the world around her create a different kind of horror.

  • The importance of sound design: The haunting, repetitive organ music of "Carnival of Souls" is a crucial part of its unsettling atmosphere. The music underscores Mary's loneliness and becomes a constant reminder of her anxieties.

  • Surrealism and dreamlike quality: The film often blurs the lines between reality and nightmares. The disjointed editing, strange camera angles, and ambiguous sequences leave the viewer questioning what is real and what might be a manifestation of Mary's disturbed psyche.

  • Lingering unease: The film doesn't offer easy answers or a neatly tied-up ending. This ambiguity leaves a lingering sense of unease that stays with the viewer long after the final scene.

  • Low-budget filmmaking can be incredibly effective: "Carnival of Souls" is a testament to the power of ingenuity and storytelling over big budgets. Its stripped-down aesthetic and resourceful filmmaking techniques enhance its haunting atmosphere.

Woman watches the eerie film "Carnival of Souls," her face mirroring the protagonist's growing unease.
Each ghastly figure on the screen felt like a premonition of her own unsettling future.

Released in 1962, this independent horror flick from director Herk Harvey is a masterclass in low-budget brilliance. Forget the CGI spectacle and overblown tropes of today's horror movies; "Carnival of Souls" creates terror out of thin air. The story hinges on Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), who somehow emerges as the sole survivor of a drag race gone horrifyingly wrong. The plunge into the river should have been her end. Surprisingly--this is one of many things the film never fully explains.

Haunted by visions both waking and sleeping, Mary takes a job as a church organist in a new town. The mournful tones of that organ set the soundtrack to her life, a constant reminder of the tragedy left behind. But the escape proves less complete than Mary hoped. A mysterious, ghoulish figure (played by Harvey himself) stalks her with a menacing, otherworldly persistence. And then there are the times when it seems like no one else can see Mary at all...

This is where the film also dips its toes into explorations of isolation and dissociation. Sure, there are ghostly, supernatural elements, but what if this is also a film about a woman slipping away from herself, unable to connect with others after a near-fatal trauma? It's the kind of film that gets under your skin.

If the plot sounds simple, it is. It also might sound a bit familiar to fans of "Night of the Living Dead." George Romero famously cited "Carnival of Souls" as inspiration for his zombie classic. That shared DNA is undeniably there, the creeping dread and low-budget inventiveness. But, "Carnival of Souls" predates Romero's masterpiece.

A man's eyes are locked on the screen during "Carnival of Souls", his body tense with fear.
The world within the movie was beginning to seep into his own, blurring the lines of reality.

The 2024 Review Of This Classic Film

Filmed primarily in Salt Lake City, with its centerpiece being the haunting, abandoned Saltair Pavilion on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, "Carnival of Souls" trades in stark black-and-white visuals and an unnerving organ score. There are moments where the amateurish acting feels obvious, yet somehow they only add to the dreamlike quality of the film. The sense of something being just a bit off-kilter is what keeps you glued to the screen.

Is it horror? Sure. But it's also psychological, a bit surreal, and surprisingly moving. Mary's journey isn't one of jump scares and buckets of gore. In fact, violence is barely shown. It's about atmosphere, the unsettling notion of not belonging in your own skin. That's the kind of terror that lingers long after the film ends.

"Carnival of Souls" isn't everyone's cup of tea. It might even underwhelm those expecting the shock-and-awe of modern horror moviemaking. Yet, for those willing to venture into its strange, hypnotic rhythm, the experience is unforgettable. It's one of those films that lodges itself in the recesses of your mind, where faded memories and fantasies get muddled together.

Herk Harvey never had another feature-length film hit like this. Hilligoss went on to other projects, but this remains her iconic role. Still, perhaps that adds to the mystique of "Carnival of Souls." It feels like a cinematic anomaly, a lightning-in-a-bottle creation that continues to intrigue new generations of viewers. And like the abandoned carnival that beckons Mary to its decaying grounds, this movie is an invitation into an eerie world where the line between the living and the dead, the real and the imagined, blurs until you're left wondering… did everything falls back into place, or is this all part of some lingering nightmare?

And that is Carnival of Souls 1962 Reviewed. Another classic horror movie that every hardcore fan should watch. 

Stay tuned for more horror movie reviews

If You Liked Carnival of Souls You Might Also Like These Films

  • Repulsion (1965): Directed by Roman Polanski, this psychological horror masterpiece follows a young woman named Carol descending into madness and paranoia while isolated in her apartment. If you appreciate the themes of mental disintegration and unsettling atmosphere in "Carnival of Souls," you'll likely be gripped by "Repulsion."

  • Eyes Without a Face (1960): This French horror film by Georges Franju tells the story of a surgeon obsessed with restoring his daughter's disfigured face. It possesses a similar dreamlike, haunting quality as "Carnival of Souls," along with an undercurrent of profound sadness.

  • Night of the Hunter (1955): Starring Robert Mitchum as a terrifying false preacher, this chilling film noir follows two children fleeing from danger. While not strictly horror, "Night of the Hunter" shares a sense of lurking menace and stark visual style, creating a similarly unsettling viewing experience.

  • Eraserhead (1977): David Lynch's surrealist debut film delves into the anxieties of a man trapped in an industrial wasteland, confronting nightmarish visions and societal fears. If you were drawn to the strange, otherworldly feel of "Carnival of Souls," you might be fascinated by Lynch's bizarre and deeply unsettling work.

  • Häxan (1922): This Swedish-Danish silent documentary-style horror film explores the history of witchcraft and superstition. "Häxan" offers another kind of vintage horror experience, with disturbing imagery and a sense of creeping unease that will resonate with "Carnival of Souls" fans who enjoy the offbeat.

Carnival of Souls 1962 Reviewed FAQs

Q: What is "Carnival of Souls"? 

A: "Carnival of Souls" is a classic horror film released in 1962, directed by Herk Harvey. It's an independent, psychological horror film known for its stark visuals, haunting organ score, and dreamlike atmosphere. The plot centers on Mary Henry, a young woman who survives a car accident and relocates to start a new life, only to be plagued by disturbing visions and a sense of disconnection from reality.

Q: Who are some of the notable actors in "Carnival of Souls"? 

A: The movie stars Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry, Frances Feist as the primary ghoul figure, and Sidney Berger as the slightly off-putting but well-meaning boarding house neighbor. Herk Harvey himself, the director, also appears as the main ghoul that stalks Mary.

Q: Can you provide a brief movie review of "Carnival of Souls"? 

A: "Carnival of Souls" is a low-budget horror film that has gained a cult following for its eerie atmosphere, creepy organ score, and unique storyline. It transcends its budgetary limitations, proving that atmosphere and suggestion can be far more terrifying than explicit violence or special effects. The film's unsettling quality lingers long after viewing.

Q: What makes "Carnival of Souls" a cult classic? 

A: The film works well as a classic horror movie due to its chilling story of Mary Henry and the abandoned amusement park setting. Beyond that, its cult status comes from several factors:

  • Psychological Depth: It explores themes of trauma, isolation, and the potential breakdown of reality.

  • Surreal Atmosphere: The film blurs the lines between nightmares and reality, leaving the viewer questioning what is truly happening.

  • Influence: "Carnival of Souls" served as inspiration for later horror classics like George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead."

Q: Is "Carnival of Souls" considered a scary movie? 

A: Many people find "Carnival of Souls" to be especially eerie and creepy, making it a must-watch for fans of old horror films. It relies on a building sense of dread and psychological terror rather than jump scares or gore, creating a different but lasting type of fear.

Q: Who directed "Carnival of Souls"? 

A: "Carnival of Souls" was directed by Herk Harvey, known primarily for this film, although he also directed educational and industrial films throughout his career.

Q: What is the significance of the organ factory in the movie? 

A: The organ factory serves multiple purposes:

  • Practical: It provides Mary with a job as a church organist and underscores her connection to religious music.

  • Symbolic: The repetitive, almost mournful, tones of the organ music reflect Mary's emotional state and contribute to the film's unsettling mood.

  • Thematic: Scenes of Mary practicing in the cavernous, empty space emphasize her isolation and detachment.

Q: Is "Carnival of Souls" similar to "The Twilight Zone"? 

A: "Carnival of Souls" has been compared to "The Twilight Zone" for its surreal and mysterious storyline set in a world that feels different and unsettling. Both share a sense of ambiguity and tap into the fear of the unknown and the uncanny.


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