“I feel sorry for you and your lack of soul!”
After emerging from a fatal car crash, a young woman (Candace Hilligoss) travels to her new job as a church organist in Utah, but remains haunted by the presence of a ghoulish man (Herk Harvey), and unable to emotionally connect with anyone around her.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this low-budget cult classic as a “sleeper that moviegoers always mention as one of their personal discoveries”. He comments on its “many clever ‘eerie’ scenes”, such as the two times when “Mary [Hilligoss] finds that she can’t hear anything and that people neither hear nor see her” (reminiscent of a “Twilight Zone” episode); the scene when she “climbs onto a bus, only to find that it is full of ghouls”; and the creepy finale at a deserted carnival pavilion. Indeed, for such a low-budget venture by a relatively novice director (this was Herk Harvey’s first and only feature-length narrative movie after a career in industrial film production), it possesses a surprising amount of atmosphere and panache, with striking b&w cinematography, creative direction, and a particularly noteworthy organ score by Gene Moore.
In his review, Peary argues that “rather than being a straight horror film, [Carnival of Souls] delivers a message similar to the one in Invasion of the Body Snatchers about how we are turning into pod people”, given that “Mary is such a passive, uninvolved (soulless) character”. (Interestingly, the Strasberg-trained Hilligoss apparently complained about this very description, and attempted to inject even more life into her protagonist.) Unfortunately, Peary’s review glibly gives away spoilers, as do other online reviews — so be duly forewarned; but chances are you’ll find yourself guessing the truth about Mary’s “situation” long before the end. Remade in 1998 by Wes Craven.
NB: According to TCM, Carnival of Souls was restored and revived in theaters in 1989, and made available on home video the following year, thus entering into mainstream moviegoers’ cultural consciousness just a few years after Peary’s GFTFF was published.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Candace Hilligoss as Mary
- Many genuinely frightening images
- Striking cinematography by Maurice Prather
- Effective use of pre-existing locales
- Creative direction and editing
- Gene Moore’s organ score
Yes, as a genuine cult classic.