Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesday Terrors - Carnival of Souls (1962)

Sometimes a horror flick will depend upon things like jump-scares in order to try to shock its audience. You know the kind of thing I mean: the lights have gone out in the heroine's house, she's trying to find a candle, opens up a closet door, and out jumps a screeching cat that has apparently not before made a sound in protest of being trapped in there. Others rely on special effects to show us all kinds of creepy crawly aliens or ghosts that appear and disappear and attack both the viewer and the protagonist. For an especially egregious example of this, see the 1999 remake of The Haunting which turns one of the great psychological thrillers of the 60's into a showcase for bad and ill-considered cgi effects. Then there are the movies which rely on creating an atmosphere in order to provide their chills and thrills, movies which set the hero or heroine in a situation that seems just slightly off-kilter and then slowly turn up the oddness until there is no denying that something strange is going on and they must eventually confront whatever is causing it. Today's film, Carnival of Souls, fits squarely into the latter category.

Conceived when director-producer Herk Harvey was vacationing in Salt Lake City and became enamored of the abandoned Saltair Pavilion on the banks of the Great Salt Lake, Carnival of Souls tells the story of Mary Henry, a young organist who is abbout to take a job at a church in a new town. Before leaving for her new position, however, Mary is out with some friends, and they are challenged to a drag race by a car full of boys. Pulling onto a bridge, the girls' car is bumped by the other and goes careening over the edge. Police and rescue workers show, and depite their best efforts they cannot find the car or any survivors in the depths of the river. Suddenly, however, Mary appears crawling onto the bank, and it's deemed a miracle that she survived.

She may have survived the wreck, but something has changed about Mary. Moving to her new job she declares that she is never coming back to her old town, and when she gets to the new one she seems cold and distant from people, having trouble fitting in. She has also begun to have visions of a pale old man, at first just taking over her reflection, but eventually appearing before her in physical form. She is having other visions too. On her way to the town she noticed an old abandoned amusement park, and not only does she feel strangely drawn to it, but she seems to be having waking dreams of ghouls dancing and cavorting through the park. Most disturbing of all, however, is the change in Mary's music. Once described by the minister who has become her boss as music to move the soul, he is soon denouncing it as profane and blasphemous. Soon, Mary has no coice but to investigate the old carnival and see what significance it has in what has happened to her.

Filmed on a reported budget of $33,000, in and around Salt Lake City and Lawrence, Kansas, using mostly local actors and actresses, Carnival of Souls is surprisingly effective with its otherworldly atmospherics and mounting sense of dread. It's one of those films that gives you that creeping sense of "something's not quite right here, but I'm not sure exactly what it is".

Here's a trailer:

And the Skinny:
Title: Carnival of Souls
Release Date: 1962
Running Time: 82min
Black and White
Starring: Candace Hilligoss
Directed by: Herk Harvey
Produced by: Herk Harvey
Released by: Herts-Lion International corp.

Carnival of Souls is available to watch or download for free here.
It's available to purchase on DVD from Amazon: Carnival of Souls - Criterion Collection.

Netflix also has the DVD available for rental or to watch instantly: Carnival of Souls.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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