Carnival of Souls, 1962, 84 minutes, Black and white. Directed by Herk Harvey. Starring Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry, Frances Feist as Mrs. Thomas, Sydney Berger as John Linden and Harvey as The Man (uncredited). Schlock-Meter rating: 9 stars out of 10.
Carnival of Souls is a very spooky gem -- filmed mostly in Salt Lake City -- about a woman (Hilligoss) who survives a car wreck in a lake that kills her friends. She walks out of the water, seemingly unhurt. An accomplished organist, she takes a job across the country. On the way, she keeps seeing a haunting, white-faced spectre (Harvey).
However, when the woman, named Mary Henry, arrives at work, rents a room and takes a job, she feels herself disconnecting from the rest of the world. She's haunted by music, an abandoned dance hall (at the old Salt Air for movie buffs), and she's seemingly lost the ability to feel for others, as a nerdy would-be suitor (Berger) discovers. Also, she keeps seeing the creepy man spectre. She begins to wonder if she is really alive.
This film is scary, and I wouldn't watch it alone. As Mary Henry's confusion, panic and terror mounts, the audience is drawn into her fear and paranoia. You feel her fear, and there is a scene, where she visits a psychiatrist, that will make you jump from you seat with its payoff shock. The climax takes place at the abandoned Saltair amusement park and dance hall, and literally offers a dance featuring the dead.
Director Harvey keeps the pace moving well, and is very talented in providing a haunting mood throughout. This gem was mostly ignored when released, but maintained a small cult following and eventually was brought to greater publicity in the late 1980s by film critic Roger Ebert, and it played at many art houses. A sort of semi-remake was attempted in 1998, but attracted little attention, and quickly moved to video stores.
-- Doug Gibson