Director – Herk Harvey
Cast – Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt
Release Year – 1962
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I really feel ashamed as a horror fanatic that it took me 25 years of my life to watch this renowned horror classic, and I am pleased to say that this experience turned out just as good as I expected it to be. Built on a low budget and coming with a very short runtime, Carnival of Souls does much with what little the filmmakers had at their disposal, and give us one of the most quintessential psychological horror films of all time.
After mysteriously surviving a traumatic accident, Mary Henry(Candace Hilligoss) moves on with her life and takes a job as a church organist, but that does little to aid her escape from the psychological hell she is suffering, and her strange allurement to a creepy abandoned circus.
For a film from the early 1960s to be as scary as this one is is phenomenal, and it shows how great filmmakers can pretty much do anything with just the most minimal of resources. The excellence starts with the story, which comes ahead of its time due to the numerous twists and turns, as well as great development and writing execution of the psychological terror that our protagonist (Mary) goes through. I was surprised that a film coming in at a mere 77 minutes was able to attain so many things in such a short runtime (cut down from 84 minutes originally), but little time is wasted and instead we are given a clever and horrifying experience. Mary somehow surviving a terrible crash under very odd circumstances was a great way to get things going, and her crash plays heavily on her ever-deteriorating psychological state of mind as she comes face to face with surreal horrors that are not so surreal when they pick up the intensity. All of this boils down to a harrowing final act that bleeds non-stop horror, including some of the most classic scenes in horror history that bring this piece to its awesome and shocking climax.
Director Herk Harvey did a great job execution the many solid elements the film offers, starting with the mental degradation of Mary(portrayed by Candace Hilligoss) and ending with the awesome horror that he brought to screen. In the vein of Repulsion, Mary’s mental state provides for great conflict and Harvey’s execution of the matter gave us a strong and full-frontal look into the horror she is forced to endure day and in day out, and even left me with a few surprising chills. I really do not expect films from earlier than the 70s to scare me very much, but Carnival of Souls gave me a few good chills that left me unsurprised at the cult following the film has attained over time. Harvey kept things simple and used execution to bring them to life, and it made for a great experience of classic horror.
Overall, Carnival of Souls is a fantastic horror film that gives us a truly horrifying experience way before its time. The filmmakers did very much with what little they had to work with, and the story comes with many engaging elements that keep the viewer engaged throughout, and the horror provided as a result of story and direction makes for some great chills that you never expect but truly appreciate.