Thursday, September 27, 2012

Carnival of Souls – A True “Cult Classic.”

By Steve D. Stones

The cult status of this 1962 low-budget film can never be overstated. A 1989 theatrical re-release with restored missing footage brought it out of TV obscurity and back into the public spotlight. Director George Romero credits this film as inspiration for his 1968 film - Night of The Living Dead. The film continues to influence up and coming horror directors. It is an exercise in psychological horror, avoiding any graphic horror imagery.

Young Mary Henry, played by Candace Hilligoss, races across a Lawrence, Kansas bridge with friends when their car plunges into a river, killing all passengers in the car. Mary emerges hours later from the river, with no recollection of the accident. To forget the terrible accident and rebuild her life, Mary moves to Utah to take a job as a church organist. During her travels, she encounters strange zombie like creatures who haunt her in her dreams and in reality. One of the zombies is director Herk Harvey, who appears to be the most convincing and creepy zombie. He even appears in an empty church with Mary as she practices on the organ.

The zombies continue to haunt her as she flees a department store in down town Salt Lake City, running sporadically in front of the Salt Lake LDS Temple visitor’s center. While boarding a bus, she encounters a large group of zombies in black gowns. She finds herself drawn to an old fairgrounds carnival, the Saltair Fairgrounds west of Salt Lake. While wandering around the fairgrounds, the zombies chase after her, but don’t seem intent on harming her or eating her for lunch. The film ends with a tow truck pulling the crashed car from the Lawrence, Kansas river. Mary is still in the car with her friends.  All the girls are deceased.  

The most effective aspect of this film is the exploration of the fine line between life and death. The eerie organ music heightens the creepy feeling of the film. A Wade Williams print of Carnival of Souls shows a green tinted sequence of Hilligoss walking down a narrow alley as a van nearly runs her over. Other prints restore a conversation sequence between Hilligoss’ land lady and a psychiatrist. A cheap VHS print of the film distributed in the mid-1980s by Goodtimes Video shows the title sequence of the film as – Corridors of Evil. Avoid this print at all costs. Happy Viewing!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What's so interesting about this film is that the viewer can't be 100 percent sure they are zombies. They may be death spirits pulling her to the land of the deceased gradually. Or it may all be a dream she experiences as she lies unconscious, slowly dying as water fills the car to drown her. Absolutely a classic horror fantasy film.