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Overall Rating
3.98

Awesome: 28.57%
Worth A Look52.38%
Average: 11.9%
Pretty Bad: 2.38%
Total Crap: 4.76%

2 reviews, 30 user ratings


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Carnival of Souls (1962)
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by Brian McKay

"An obscure yet intriguing horror film with far-reaching influence"
4 stars

Sadly "Carnival of Souls" was the first and only feature film made by veteran filmmaker Herk Harvey. Herk made a career out of shooting documentaries and educational films before trying his hand at the horror genre. Upon its initial release, it completely fizzled and he never saw a dime from it or made another feature again. Little did he know that he had given birth to a cult classic that would have subtle yet meaningful influences on the horror genre for decades to come.

Long before the likes of "The Blair Witch Project" was Carnival of Souls - arguably the first truly "psychological" horror movie. There are no monsters, axe murderers, or cheap scares. But there are some odd and creepy images and a thought provoking story.

Candace Hiligoss plays Mary, a church organist who tickles the ivories for a paycheck, and nothing more. She has no faith or religion and doesn't seem to be interested in meaningful personal relationships with anyone. She is out joyriding with some girlfriends one afternoon when they get into a "drag race" with some boys in another car (note: this is just about the slowest "race" I've ever seen on film. A couple of homeless people pushing shopping carts would have been faster - but I digress). Somehow, the car Mary is in goes out of control and off of a bridge into the river. All of Mary's friends drown, and only she survives.

She leaves to take another organist job in Salt Lake City (though most of the film was shot in Lawrence, Kansas). As she drives through the west Utah desert at night, she spots a huge, shadowy building looming in the distance. She later enquires about the building, and learns that it is an abandoned resort on the shore of the Great Salt Lake (the real Saltair resort, which was long-abandoned at the time the film was shot). She inexplicably finds herself drawn to the place. On her second visit, she encounters a ghostly group of people dancing to eerie music, wearing all black with pasty white faces (Pre-Goths, if you will). They chase her menacingly, and she flees in terror.

Thinking she's gone crazy, she visits a psychiatrist who tries to convince her that she is neither insane, nor is she seeing ghosts. Despite his efforts to help her, however, she finds herself pursued through the city streets by the pre-goths and soon notices the people suddenly aren't paying attention to her. It's as if she has ceased to exist. She must return one more time to the "Carnival of Souls" to discover the truth.

Fans of modern horror films will readily recognize many elements of Carnival of Souls in films like "The Sixth Sense" and "The Shining", to name but a few. It is also interesting to note that the entire story was inspired by a location - the Saltair resort, which had been closed down by flooding several years earlier. Herk had seen it while traveling, and found it spooky-looking enough to craft an effective supernatural tale around it. Although the film occasionally suffers from hammy acting and meandering subplots, it still gets its central themes across quite nicely.

Drive-In Triple Feature Picks for Carnival of Souls:

Jacob's Ladder- A more dense and polished film that explores similar themes.

Session 9 - another well-made low-budget psychological horror film inspired by a creepy real-life location - the abandoned state mental hospital in Danvers, Massachusets.

Oh, and be sure to stay far away from the 1998 remake. It is a complete fucking hatchet job. It says it's presented by "Wes Craven", but he didn't even direct it, and even if he had I doubt he could have done the original any justice.

This film is suprisingly adept at telling its story, considering how amatuerish the entire affair is, especially since this was the first-time film project for both writer/director Harvey and Lead Actress Hiligoss. Not only is the ending chilling and thought-provoking, but the abandoned Saltair resort provides a satisfyingly creepy backdrop for the supernatural events to unfold. Props to Herk Harvey for giving us this rare gem. It's too bad his feature film career was cut so short.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3103&reviewer=258
originally posted: 09/01/02 20:51:37
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User Comments

12/28/17 morris campbell overrated with a obvious twist ending 1 stars
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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