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A drag race turns to tragedy when one car, with three young women inside, topples over a bridge and into the muddy river below. The authorities drag the river, but the search is fruitless and the girls are presumed dead until a single survivor stumbles out of the water with no recollection of how she escaped. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) decides to forget her strange experience and carry on with her plan to move to Utah to accept a job as a church organist. She rejects the notion that because her profession leads her to work in the church, she is obligated to worship as part of the congregation, and this cold approach to her work unnerves many around her. While driving to the new city, she experiences weird visions of a ghoulish man who stares at her through the windshield, and passes an abandonded carnival on a desolate stretch of highway outside of town to which she feels strangely drawn. Mary tries to live her life in private, ignoring invitations to worship by the minister of her church and the leering propositions of a neighbor in her rooming house. Soon the ghostly apparition from the highway is appearing more often, and she experiences eerie spells in which she becomes invisible to people on the street. A doctor tries to help, but he too is rejected, and eventually Mary realizes that the deserted carnival holds the secret to her destiny. ~ Fred Beldin, Rovi
A drive in the country past an delapidated amusement park proves to be more than simply moody and atmospheric for an young woman just starting out in life ... or is she? A heavy church organ music background proves to rattle even the strongest nerve in this justified cult classic.
After a tragic car crash during a drag race, the sole survivor, a Kansas woman named Mary takes a job playing the organ at a church in Utah. On her journey ot Utah she begins experiencing ghostly visions and odd compulsions to visit an eeir abandoned carnival. Things get even weirder and more spooky from there, and her attempts to live a normal, quiet life seem all but impossible to do.
Released in the early 1960s, this is a low budget indie before that concept really became what it is today. It might a horror film with a bunch of no names and little funds, but it makes the msot of what it has, and the result is a surprisingly fun and creepy atmospheric chiller that has become quite successful in the nearly 50 years since its release.
The cinematogrpahy is surprisingly quite good, with the visuals being reminiscent of European arthouse fare as well as a bit of film noir. The acting is a bit stiff and wooden, and some of the makeup looks a bit cheesy in hindsight, but comared to a lot of stuff that came out after it did, these could have been far more terrible.
The key to this film's success is in its atmosphere, which is quite excellent, and really strengthened thanks in large part to the film's organ score which is really hypnotic, creepy, and mesmerizing. The film has a heavy Twilight Zone vibe to it, and the increasing moodiness and bizarreness of events make for a fun little horror yarn.
All in all, this is a strong effort given the circumstances, and I really liked it. I get the impression that I should love this, but even though as of now I merely just really, really enjoyed it, I think I could see myself eventually falling in love with it. If you want an entertaining and eerie film that helped set a certain standard for future similar films, then you need to give this one a watch.
October 30, 2011
A film that creeps up on you and delivers. With breathtaking cinematography and direction, It's not just any regular old B-movie.
At times it feels like a Twilight Zone episode, wooden acting and everything, but when Carnival of Souls gets the mood right it never lets you go. Yes, mood, there was a time when movies had a sense of atmosphere, of building tension. All this with the right direction, the right selection of music, performances, not CGI and loud soundtracks.
Carnival of Souls works around it's budget and supporting cast issues by creating great moments, using wisely it's very obvious influences from german expresionism. Candice Hilligoss carries around the movie in a solid performance, and the director himself will keep creeping the crap out of you. People grown with thrillers/"horror" movies of the last decade will just try to keep guessing the ending. As for the rest of us, the journey of the movie will be the real joy here.
When it comes to cult classics of the horror genre, I lump Carnival Of Souls into the same category as Night Of The Living Dead (1968). This movie had an extremely low budget - it was made for $30,000, or $17,000, depending on the source. Whatever it was, it was dirt cheap to make. But in my opinion, sometimes low budget movies are better than the polished big budget movies with top-of-the-line actors and special effects. When it comes to horror movies, a small amount of money can produce the same desired result as big budget movies, which is to scare the audience. The goal is to create an eerie and spooky and scary atmosphere that taps into a person's feelings of fear. You really don't need a lot of money to accomplish this. A lot of low budget B horror movies are very effective. Carnival Of Souls is one of them.
This movie was shot in Lawrence, Kansas and also at the Saltair Pavilion amusement park in Salt Lake City, Utah. This movie stars Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry, a church organist who survives a car accident in which her two girl companions died. The accident was the result of a car full of guys challenging the girls to a drag race. The race turns tragic as the car goes off a bridge and plunges into a river below. Her two companions die in the accident, but Mary somehow survives basically unscathed. She then goes to Salt Lake City and takes a new job playing organ in a church. Throughout the movie, she often sees the ghostly image of a man (played by director Herk Harvey) practically everywhere she goes. This man seems to be haunting her. Nobody else but her sees this man. It isn't long before she seems to become non-existent to the people around her, all of whom don't see or hear her. Along the way, a fellow tenant named John (played by Sidney Berger) who lives across the hall from her takes a great interest in her. At first she pushes him away, then at other times she wants to be with him and goes out to dinner with him. But at one point he realizes that she is "off her rocker" and storms out of the room and never sees her again. Mary seems to be scared of unknown forces throughout the movie. It also seems as if what is living and what is dead is a blur to her. She can't tell the difference. She basically is caught between the living and the dead. She is even haunted by her own organ music, which changes from happier tones early in the movie to more sinister and darker tones while she's practicing at the church one night. It seems as though ever since she saw the pavilion she became drawn to it. As a result, she falls into a trance and sees, in her mind, zombies coming out of the water near the pavilion to delight in her sinister organ music. Suddenly the church minister appears out of nowhere and disapproves of her organ playing and fires her. At first it appears she's still in a trance. Then it becomes apparent that she's probably in shock about being fired.
Near the end, it seems as if Mary has been dreaming about these zombies at the abandoned carnival. The end of the movie has a bizarre ending that I won't reveal. Watch it to find out what happens.
This movie's score is 100% theater organ, performed by Gene Moore. That's it - an organ. The organ music is eerie throughout the movie and seems to be off key a lot of the time (intentionally, of course) and has an underlying, subtle carnival melody during a lot of the scenes at the pavilion. I must say I'm surprised that Candace Hilligoss only appeared in one other movie (The Curse Of The Living Corpse in 1964). She is nice looking, has very good screen presence, and does a good job in her role.
This movie can be classified as having subtle, atmospheric psychological horror. This movie has no blood and gore. Instead, the music, camera angles, lighting, howling winds, shadows, and feeling of emptiness make this movie creepy.
This film is a must see for any fan of classic horror.
Much more interesting visually than story-wise. Kind of reminded me of Polanski...perhaps a poor man's Polanski. Well, that is, before there even was a Polanski. Anyway, the story is a pretty predictable affair and some of the performances are pretty schlocky, but the overall atmosphere, mood, and visuals are what make this film worth watching.
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