Carnival of Souls (1962)

10/22/2017 13:44

Film: Carnival of Souls

Year: 1962

Director: Herk Harvey

Writer: John Clifford

Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist and Sidney Berger



This film was one that my mother turned me on to. I remember her buying this on DVD and I’m not entirely sure if she knew what it was or not. I believe we watched it together with my sister and I wasn’t very high on it after that first viewing. Since then, I’ve seen it a few times and it is one that’s grown on me the more I watch it. One of my viewings was at the Gateway Film Center, which was fun. The synopsis is after a traumatic accident, a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious carnival.

We begin with a group of guys in a car pulling up alongside a car full of girls. The one in the passenger seat is Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss). The guys ask if they want to drag race, which the driver agrees. The race takes them to a bridge where the car of girls crashes and falls into the river below. A search is done, but the car cannot be found due to mud and the current of the water. Mary does emerge from the river, even though it’s been hours since the incident happens.

We then see her at work. Her boss is played by Tom McGinnis. Mary went to college where she studied music. She works at a factory that makes organs. She has accepted a position in Utah to play this instrument at a church. She isn’t religious, but she wants to get away from the town the incident happened. She is good with this instrument and the haunting sound it gives.

She decided to drive straight through to the new town. As she approaches is sunset. She sees an odd building in the distance. She tries to change the radio station, but it seems to only be playing eerie organ music. It gets louder as she tries to change it. She then sees a figure outside of her passenger window, played by director Herk Harvey. This causes her to go off-road. She comes to a gas station and asks about the address she is staying at. He directs her where to go and tells her about the pavilion in the distance.

Mary makes it to the boarding house and she shown around by the landlady, Mrs. Thomas (Frances Feist). She is firm but takes a liking to Mary. She sees The Man outside of her window and it freaks her out. Mary has a run-in that night with the man across the hall, John Linden (Sidney Berger), a creepy guy who really doesn’t take no for an answer.

The next morning, she goes into work and meets her new boss. He is a minister, played by Art Ellison. She tries out the organ and those around get sucked into her playing. She gets lightheaded and needs to take a break. The minister asks her to take a drive with him to run an errand. She asks if they will go past the pavilion. He states they will and agrees to take her out there if she would like.

She is truly fascinated by the place, but also haunted by it. The Man keeps appearing to her and she has these odd bouts of where the sound will go away and no one seems to notice her. What is going on with Mary? And what does this mysterious man have to do with it?

As I’ve kind alluded to earlier, this is one that I didn’t fully appreciate or understand until seeing it as an adult. This is a great example of psychological horror. You have a woman, Mary, who goes through a near-death experience and trying to cope with the world around her as she deals with the stress of it. She goes through mood swings, where she wants people around her, but also wants to be alone. John is a womanizer that comes on to her. She enjoys the attention, yet he comes on way too strong. She is also being plagued by Harvey and other ghouls of a sort. The question is are they real? Why does she go through spells where she can’t hear anything and no one knows she is there? The ending is great and makes the film for me. There are also some creepy parts that made me feel unsettled as well.

I won’t spoil the ending, but there are so many things that are established throughout the movie for it. She takes a job in the church, but she isn’t religious. She is callous when her boss tells her that it might be good to talk to someone. Mary wants to go about working there as a job. This also throws off the minister. We get an interesting interaction between them when she plays a haunting song that he considers blasphemous. I like the final sequence and the aftermath of it. I didn’t fully understand it until a few viewings, but it makes sense with Mary and the people haunting her.

The editing of this film was excellent as well. The film only runs 78 minutes, but there are some great cuts from one scene to the next that impressed me. It never gets boring, which is partially is due to the low running time. It keeps building tension as we go. I touched on the ending already, but I loved it and is thought provoking as to what it means.

The acting is good for the time and budget. Hilligoss has a solid performance. She plays some who is traumatized and trying to move past it by just living her life. I say this because she must deal with wanting to be alone. There is also the need for people to be around all the while having people telling her how she should be coping. This is an issue that people who are dealing with things must live with. You can’t get into their head and sometimes telling them what to do doesn’t help. It really is an interesting look at PTSD. Berger annoyed me, but I’m fine with him in the film. He is a good representation of toxic masculinity. He is using guilt trips and the like to get what he wants, despite her telling him no. I also thought Harvey did well as the specter that haunts Mary. He is so creepy in most of what he does. The rest of the cast also rounded out the movie for what was needed as well.

There isn’t much in the way of effects so I don’t have a lot to say there. I like the look of the specters. They just have white make-up and dark circles around their eyes, but it really did play well for me, especially since this is in black and white. The cinematography is good as well. There are some good shots from inside of the pavilion. We are seeing that The Man is looking out at here. On top of that, we get this dance sequence out there or the time they chase after Mary. All this worked for me with the atmosphere.

The last thing then would be the soundtrack. It is something I wanted to talk about as well. I can’t tell if there are more than two songs in this film, but most of it is organ music. It is haunting and unsettling. It gives the film the mood that it needs. The times that it is used make even normal scenes feel creepy. I also like when the sound is drained away here. It is unnerving when you notice it. Mary also tries to get people’s attention and she can’t. It is almost like she doesn’t exist, which is terrifying.

Now with that said, I would recommend seeing this film. It is a haunting tale of a woman trying to deal with near-death experience. It makes you question if these ghouls she is seeing, are they real or her hallucinating to deal with this trauma. Hilligoss’ performance is solid and the rest of the cast push her to where she ends up, which works. The soundtrack is haunting and I loved it. The editing of the film was also good. I will warn you that this film is from 1962 and is in black and white, if that is an issue then avoid this one. If you can get past that, I would recommend this film even if you do not like horror.


My Rating: 8 out of 10