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Overall Rating
4.05

Awesome: 29.27%
Worth A Look53.66%
Average: 12.2%
Pretty Bad: 2.44%
Total Crap: 2.44%

2 reviews, 29 user ratings


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Carnival of Souls (1962)
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by Jay Seaver

"This has no reason to work as well as it does at all."
4 stars

A lot of time when writing about horror movies, I lament that there's not necessarily any underlying logic to their mythologies, even in strictly metaphorical terms - it's just scenes that are creepy stitched together in a way to keep the audience off-balance. That is 1962's "Carnival of Souls" in a nutshell - a bunch of random spooky scenes that somehow become a movie out of director Herk Harvey's sheer force of will.

It starts with some boys-versus-girls drag racing which ends with the ladies' car being forced of a bridge into a river. One of its occupants, Mary Henry (Candace Hillgoss), makes it back to land. Six months later, with no memory of the incident, she's taken a job as a church organist off in Utah. It's strictly a job to her, to the consternation of the minister (Art Ellison). She initially rebuffs the maternal nosiness of her landlady (Frances Feist) and the more intimate interest of her neighbor (Sidney Berger). She's drawn to the shuttered fairgrounds just outside the city, and soon starts to see visions of the dead even as people seem to act as if she's not there.

Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford make some choices with Carnival of Souls that seem quite peculiar to the audience that has seen a lot of movies - especially genre films - and knows what makes them tick, either instinctively or analytically. Right away, we see the boys who ran the car in which Mary was a passenger off the road lying to the cops about how the incident went down, which seems to set up a revenge scenario - but, no, Mary just leaves town and neither she nor the film looks back. Maybe this connection she has with the dead will help solve the mystery of this haunted place? No, not so much. For better or for worse, these threads only the slimmest of connections.

So, what is it about? Well, a sort of post-traumatic stress, perhaps - Mary feeling like she belongs neither to the lands of the living nor those of the dead. Candace Hilligoss is far from a great actress, but she does a nice job of getting that across; Mary can be kind of chilly and standoffish even as she has moments of trying to connect with people, and she does a fair job of having her character swing between those poles even as she remains the same person. Her more hysterical outbursts aren't quite so impressive, but they're believable, while the actress does have a little trouble with portraying the unnatural draw of the fairgrounds.

The rest of the cast is a step or two below her and generally played much more broadly. Harvey made this movie in the midst of a long career of industrial and educational films, shooting at the same efficient pace. For someone who made just this one horror feature, he is pretty good at setting up a good scary situation - Mary's sudden invisibility is genuinely unnerving and the scene with her in a car on a garage lift is nifty enough that I'm somewhat surprised not to have seen it stolen/"homaged" more often. The filmmakers do have some problems when things need to become character-based, though, and a lot of scenes just don't do what they're supposed to.

And yet, more often than not, "Carnival of Souls" works, either in spite of its not coming together or because of it. The supernatural elements pull in different directions, so the shadow world still feels mysterious and unknowable, and that's something that man more polished horror movies don't come close to.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3103&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/23/13 13:51:11
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User Comments

11/06/14 PAUL SHORTT COMPELLING, ATMOSPHERIC LOW-BUDGET GHOST STORY, DESPITE BAD PERFORMANCES 3 stars
3/13/12 Dr.Lao Further proof that "low budget" doesn't have to mean "bad" 5 stars
7/29/10 art A NIGHTMARE MOVIE PERSONIFIED! 4 stars
10/18/09 Chad Dillon Cooper A slightly dated classic, with a twist everyone will see coming. 4 stars
12/31/08 R.W. Welch Shoe string horror flick succeeds surprisingly well. 4 stars
12/19/07 Vlad Good story and some of the best camera angles for a movie from this time period 5 stars
10/10/05 ^podo scary and weird 4 stars
5/30/05 Bob Excellent film 5 stars
5/22/05 Joe Mckensy Not a good film. At all. 1 stars
1/29/05 Calebx Very atmospheric but I've never been able to make it through the movie with sleeping 3 stars
1/29/05 DethbyHashi Very atmospheric but has some very slow parts 3 stars
1/29/05 DethbySake Very atmospheric but has some very slow parts 3 stars
10/19/04 Samuel very creepy 5 stars
6/15/04 T. Maj Creepiest movie ever--"cheap" look only enhances its ambience 5 stars
4/10/04 Albert Marnell Original Masterpiece (Nothing to compare to) 5 stars
4/04/04 neville best eerie,weird,different&not a lot of logic, but...? 4 stars
3/25/04 AP Haunting 5 stars
1/23/04 Troy Lowe Cool little film, it's not quite like any other I've seen. Highly recommended 4 stars
8/31/03 Mark Has a low-budget look but a high-concept feel -- eerie without being cheesy. A classic. 4 stars
7/30/03 frankie greer Not bad for a cheap scary movie 4 stars
3/04/03 Jack Sommersby Fairly overpraised, yet it's still a fascinating venture. Godawful performances. 3 stars
10/27/02 swan early horror classic; influenced 100's of movies since. 5 stars
10/26/02 dormarth ultra ambience,creepy goth macabre 9/10 5 stars
10/22/02 Caleb "A rare piece of horror entertainment...one is easily drawn into the Carnival of Souls!" 4 stars
10/13/02 Bruce Ford The ultimate cult classic of all time. 5 stars
10/06/02 C. Erickson Very creepy effects considering the low budget 5 stars
9/01/02 Charles Tatum Overrated and unintentionally funny 2 stars
6/23/01 Ian Barr One of the best and creepiest horror films ever made. I guarantee you'll be shivering 5 stars
8/06/00 Dazza Excellent ! Creepy and suspensful, even for it's age. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Nov-1962 (NR)
  DVD: 05-May-2000

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Herk Harvey

Written by
  John Clifford

Cast
  Candnace Hilligoss
  Frances Feist
  Sidney Berger
  Art Ellison
  Stan Levitt



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