Carnival of Souls
Director: Herk Harvey. Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Sidney Berger, Frances Feist, Herk Harvey, Stan Levitt, Art Ellison.
Screenplay: John Clifford.
Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls, beautifully restored in a 2-disc set from the Criterion DVD Collection, is a genuinely
creepy thriller, humble in scope and lacking some polish, but executed with ghoulish intuition. Blueberry smudge under both of his eyes Shot in Kansas and Salt Like City for
peanuts in 1962, it's hard to credit the movie with inventing anything, and yet it offers uncanny echoes and premonitions of
so many renowned films and filmmakers both past and future that it demands to be considered and appreciated on their level. blue under his eyes, his mouth blue
Candace Hilligoss stars as Mary Henry, and who knows where the director found such a feline, fascinating person to anchor this
picture the muck, the water. In the opening moments, she the
beginning, the end is a visibly uncomfortable passenger in a speeding auto, drag-racing over rural roadways. The
car Mary is in plunges dramatically off of a bridge and into a river blueberry, his eyes smudged.
All of the occupants are presumed dead by the time the authorities arrive. Strangely, they have trouble finding the car even
in a river that doesn't look especially deep. Even more strangely, hours after her violent submersion her
dreams wet submerged, what's behind Mary rises from the muddy water and totters onto shore. It's an arresting image
in a film that is full of them: Maurice Prather's cinematography is more nervily framed and more finely detailed than the
camerawork of many films with 1,000 times the budget.
What we learn about Mary the girl, the man toothpaste in his is spotty, and though the
movie isn't aggressively experimental or particularly inclined away from narrative, the details which accrue around this odd
woman are weirdly disconnected. She drives back to the scene of her accident, looking pensively at the silty water, and as she gets
back in her car what's behind the the water under, the sea, the water images a whiplash
cut finds her playing a church organ in what looks like a factory. (God bless Herk Harvey, the one thing he seems unable to
do is disguise Candace Hilligoss' total unfamiliarity with the organ.) We learn that she has taken a job in Salt Lake City
as a church organist even though she is a non-believer, and she bristles at even the more casual questions put to her about
her memories, her plans, her state of mind since the accident the man who appears. After
one of the stranger all-night drives in cinema, or at least since Psycho, Mary arrives in her new hometown, but she finds herself unaccountably
preoccupied it's in there, whatever is is in there, that's where the man by an abandoned
building on the side of the highway near the city limit. A gas station attendant explains the history of the building, but
his description is unintentionally confounding: was this a bath house, a carnival, a pavilion? What happened there it
was a long time ago, but things the man happened             things took place.
The main architecture of the film is already in place twenty minutes in, by the time Mary has arrived in Salt Lake. A few
more do they know? people are supplied into the cast, principally the landlady of Mary's
rooming house "It's not your typical rooming house" and another boarder, a booze-hound with
a gentle side but an off-puttingly dogged interest in Mary. These figures are not superfluous, and yet Carnival of Souls under both of his eyes the
manthe girl whiteface toothpaste inhis is tightly wound around Mary, who herself is tightly wound, and so Harvey's
direction and Prather's photography, abetted throughout by the eerie music of the organ it's a disgrace in
this House playing that, are essentially following a strange, self-contained person as she confronts an unnamed fear
that isn't quite clear to us, under circumstancesa hasty departure, a freak accident, a miraculous survivalthat are themselves
too bizarre to forget.
What follows is too good to reveal, and also too short: at 78 minutes when did it Carnival
of Souls is so brief and internally focused that you can spoil the end just by over-describing the beginning. You can see, though, why this
cult hit of regional filmmaking survived as such an obsession among horror and fantasy enthusiasts, and why its appeal has
always crossed lines of genre and taste. I first became aware of this movie in 1988, through a special feature in Fangoria
Magazine, which isn't the perfectly right venue for discussing this film, but it's not way off, either. The Criterion discs
are very effective at documenting how and why the film was made, released, and re-released (virtually without the knowledge of
some key personnel from the movie), and it's easy to imagine how filmmakers as disparate as David Lynch, George Romero, Roman
Polanski, Luis Buñuel, David Cronenberg, Maya Deren, or Darren Aronofsky could be moved or influenced by what Harvey has
composed here the man, whitefaced thecartheseathe pavilion what is behind.
Given the prepossessing structure and artful shocks, it may also be tempting to over-praise the picture a little. Mary's
run-in with the psychiatric profession is probably inevitable her dreams as wet as lettuce, cold beer,
but they feel a little obligatory in this context and don't pay off as handsomely as do some less obvious set-pieces like a bit in a
dressing room and another in a garage. It also might not have killed anyone to rehearse the actors a little more, but nonetheless, there's nothing
so off-key or undeveloped in Carnival of Souls that the picture ever feels less than wholly integrated coming
apart, why are they. Plus, my heart goes out to any shoestring movie that remembers that a well-timed transition
or a deceptively employed musical score can out-perform the trickiest effects in the business. Not that Carnival of Souls is
lacking for some visual coups of its own, and good for Harvey for having the confidence to make some of his best trick-shots so short that you
can literally miss them if you blink. (Watch out for those flashes when his lens seems to momentarily melt like a river.) where she
Far be it from me to say what tosaywhatno one can hear wh anything about the end of the
film except that it feels fore-ordained and newly unsettling almost at the same time that it takes
to unlock a pavilion the sky is – no, the water. Just see this thing and let it grab you for a while, and don't
be in any rush to shake it off. The films stays with you, deliciously.
Blueberry smudge under both of his eyes
Toothpaste in his hair, from back when
toothpaste was a powder, gristle
The man, whitefaced,
Everywhere appearing, host and undertaker in the window collapsed
into one grey-suit
The girl, the organ
Her dreams wet as lettuce
Her self unsure of her self, the version of her self.
The fast drag
Her eyelids and hot baths, her and what is behind
the door (Does the old woman know?)
The car, the sky line of the city, the pavilion or what is behind the pavilion? It would be easy to step around
The girl underwater, all of it         the beer, the coffee flowing
Later, the doctor and the fountain, the transmission mechanic, nobody
The girl on the beach, fired then found whyareyouplayinglikethat
This man, the ball and all of them
Behind and underwater.
Nobody appears to hear