I go into watching movies for the first time with an open mind. I’m neither excited or lazying myself into watching. I am not sure how long this film has been sitting in my watchlist (I used Prime to watch this) but I’m thankful that I did. It’s an eerie, slow building, impact horror/indie film that would go on to inspire others like David Lynch and George A. Romero. It’s a film that evokes a sense of familiarity because of its time.
So let’s talk about the original 1962 film, Carnival of Souls.
Carnival of Souls is a lot of things. It’s a horror, thriller, supernatural and tragic film that is in a unique position. Prior to this film, Psycho was just released two years prior, The Twilight Zone was in the midst of its original television run, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane would also be released in 1962, Rosemary’s Baby wouldn’t come until 1968 and Planet of the Vampires, 13 Ghosts, Black Sunday, Village of the Damned, The Haunting and countless others would become a huge part of the horror genre’s development in the decade.
The basic plot is quite simple: a woman survives a traumatic experience to then descend into madness as she is drawn to an abandoned carnival. The full summary, from what I watched, is that our lead Mary Henry (played by Candace Hilligoss) survives a car accident and leaves the city to move to Utah with a new job (an organist for the church) but she doesn’t immediately fit in, she’s attracted to this abandoned carnival and she begins to realize that something is wrong, something is wrong with her and we watch her go down the rabbit hole.
What I liked about this movie is a lot of things. For one, the big one, is the cinematography. The way the movie is shot, the play with textures, shadows, lighting, the overall psychedelic eeriness is consistently present throughout. When she goes to the carnival the second time, the shots of empty spaces draw you in. It’s clear she isn’t alone but the camera angles, seeing Mary “alone” in a space that feels and looks bigger than it leads into a second favorite: the atmosphere. It’s very dream-like. It reminded me of The Twilight Zone, this umbrella of tension scattered throughout the film. The special effects aka the look of the ghouls is also fun. I see some similarities with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with the white pale faces and dark circles around the eyes, giving the look of the dead.
The background characters reminded me of Twin Peaks a bit. You know, these unconventional or unlikeable characters who are there to push the narrative a bit.
We’re also groomed to expect these “jump scares” and there were some present in the film but it wasn’t overdone and evenly spaced out. I think the jump scares were more… “is this really happening or is it all in her mind” versus a typical slasher where they over do it.
The movie ends on a note of… reminiscent of the end to Psycho where the vehicle is emerging out of the water, this happens in the film, but also it makes you question everything you watched. Was the film a series of events in her subconscious before she died? Why Utah? Was the universe knowingly bringing her there to set her up? Were those people we met throughout the film, were they even real? And if so, what is their perspective when realizing that the girl they had in their vicinity was nothing more than a walking ghost? I mean, the look of the minister and doctor gave me the indication that they must have known what was truly going on? Maybe that’s how I saw the film, maybe they knew more than they revealed about said carnival and maybe I’m going too deep but that’s where my mind goes!
Carnival of Souls, the 1962 version, gets a 4 out of 5 from me. It was directed by Herk Harvey and stars Candace Hilligoss, Art Ellison, Sidney Berger, Frances Feist, Stan Levitt and Herk Harvey himself as “The Man” or to me, “The main ghoul”.
I genuinely enjoyed this movie. Please check out Carnival of Souls. It is available on Prime.