CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) – The Dungeon Review!

Apparently Carnival Of Souls didn’t have much success when it was first released. The moviegoers of the 60’s had no idea what they were missing. Carnival Of Souls is an awesome film! It was made on a low budget in just a few short weeks which just makes it that much more impressive. It is amazing how much a shitload of creativity can make up for a lack of funds. Herk Harvey directed hundreds of short films for Centron Productions, a company that made educational, industrial and documentary films. Sadly, Carnival Of Souls is the only feature length film Harvey ever directed. Harvey’s single effort is a genuinely creepy one and is an outstanding contribution to the horror genre.

A car carrying three young women dives off of a bridge into the water below. While dragging the lake in search of the vehicle, one of the young women emerges from the water shocked but unharmed. The survivor is Mary Henry, a quiet but tough-minded woman who generally keeps to herself. After her accident Mary wastes no time getting out of town to take a job as an organist at a church in Utah. While driving to her destination she is frightened by an eerie white-faced man at her window and drives her car off the road. Collecting herself Mary drives on and passes by a large structure that instantly intrigues her. After settling into her new digs Mary learns that the large structure is an abandoned carnival. Mary’s new life begins to spin out of control quickly. She is stalked by the ghoulish looking man and is tortured by periods of time where she becomes invisible and inaudible to the world. Frightened and unable to comprehend her situation Mary attempts to keep a grasp on reality but will she be able to resist the draw of the carnival?

Candace Hilligoss is perfect as Mary Henry. She does a bang up job with the character making her appear tough and fragile at the same time. Her conservative and cool demeanour is shaken considerable as the films events unfold and we can see every nerve being broken. Unfortunately some of the supporting characters are a bit shaky but do add some levity to the proceedings. Mary’s landlady, Mrs. Thomas had an odd delivery and always seemed distracted by something. I found her slightly irritating, but she has a pretty tiny part in the film. Mary’s aggressive neighbour John Linden relentlessly pursues her. The character was an annoyingly pushy, horn dog. He was a little too awkward to come off as sleazy but he does leave an impression. Even though he’s quite obnoxious I thought he worked pretty well here as a distraction for Mary. This is really Mary’s story and it is a rock solid one at that. Carnival Of Souls in an intelligent horror film that doesn’t rely on cheap scares but well-balanced tension that builds as the story evolves. We are never entirely sure exactly what is going on with Mary and we share her anxiety, anxiousness and fear.

Carnival Of Souls is beautifully filmed in black and white. Its simple but eye-catching visuals are extremely effective at setting an eerie atmosphere. The white-faced ghouls with their blackened eyes and dark lips are spooky as hell. Every scene that features the ghouls is just fantastic. There is an amazing shot of the ghouls doing a macabre dance on the carnival grounds that must be commended. Another scene I love takes place in a church where Mary is playing organ but appears to be possessed, feverishly playing a composition the church’s minister calls sacrilegious. There are also moments in the film where Mary experiences a warp in time of sorts during which she cannot hear and is invisible to everyone around her. These scenes are amazingly intense and well done. Every shot from beginning to end looks perfect. The excellent organ score is the finishing touch.

A great story, amazing atmosphere, outstanding tension building, fantastic visuals and an excellent performance by Candace Hilligoss makes Carnival Of Souls a classic of the first order. Highly recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5

Directed By: Herk Harvey

Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt, Cari Conboy

4 Responses to “CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. The Film Reel Says:

    I’ve always wanted to see this one and I’m willing to bet that I already have it laying around here and just haven’t gotten to it. Time to dig out all those old flicks and start looking.

  2. Carnival Of Souls…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  3. […] Carnival of Souls is the only feature length film Herk Harvey ever directed. What a damn shame! Carnival of Souls is about a woman named Mary Henry who survives a car accident only to be haunted by a pale-faced ghoul. Mary attempts to keep a grasp on reality but will she be able to resist the draw of the carnival? Carnival of Souls is a beautifully filmed black and white masterpiece, the only thing that prevents this from getting a perfect score is its obvious twist. I must admit, that the ending although not surprising is still very satisfying. Carnival of Souls simple and eye-catching visuals and eerie atmosphere are extremely effective. The white-faced ghouls that haunt Mary with their blackened eyes and dark lips are spooky as hell and that superbly eerie abandoned carnival is just the most amazing and perfect backdrop. The excellent organ score is the finishing touch. Carnival of Souls is simply gorgeous, chilling and completely mesmerizing. To read my full review click here. […]

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