Carnival of Souls is a 1962 independent American horror feature film produced and directed by Herk Harvey and starring Candace Hilligoss and Sidney Berger.
Produced for just $33,000, the film did not gain much attention when originally released; today, however, it is widely regarded as a genuine cult classic (and not just any old film that lazy critics and journalists cite as a “cult classic”).
Set to an organ score by Gene Moore, Carnival of Souls relies more on atmosphere than on special effects to create a mood of unease and foreboding. It has been cited as an important influence on the films of both David Lynch (Eraserhead) and George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead and sequels). It was very loosely remade in 1998.
On July 12, 2016, the film was issued on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection with the following extras:
- New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Selected-scene audio commentary featuring director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford
- New interview with comedian and writer Dana Gould
- New video essay by film critic David Cairns
- The Movie That Wouldn’t Die!, a documentary on the 1989 reunion of the film’s cast and crew
- The Carnival Tour, a 2000 update on the film’s locations
- Excerpts from movies made by the Centron Corporation, an industrial film company based in Lawrence, Kansas, that once employed Harvey and Clifford
- Deleted scenes
- Outtakes, accompanied by Gene Moore’s organ score
- History of the Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City, where key scenes in the film were shot
“With its striking black-and-white compositions, disorienting dream sequences and eerie atmosphere, this has the feel of a silent German expressionist movie. Unfortunately, so does some of the acting, which suffers from exaggerated facial expressions and bizarre gesturing. But the mesmerising power of the carnival and dance-hall sequences far outweighs the corniness of the awkward intimate scenes… Nigel Floyd, Time Out
“Insufferably portentous, the script harks back to those expressionistic dramas which solemnly debated this life and the next with heavy-breathing dialogue … Yet, Harvey’s direction has a weird flair, sometimes suggesting a throwback to the silent days and drawing a kind of awkward honesty out of the amateurish actors. The film is a real curiosity with strikingly used locations…” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“The nature of Carnival of Souls’ terror lies in its atmospheric oddness, and worse, in its ability to make one question the reality of perception … While I believe strongly that Carnival of Souls needs to be understood as queer horror, it also remains a compelling, deeply empathetic picture for anyone who has ever struggled to fit in.” Shelly Jarenski, Hidden Horror
“Carnival is famous for its off-kilter opening credits, its oddball characters, its portrait of an unstable woman losing touch with everything around her, its haunting pipe organ score, and its general atmosphere of weirdness.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
” …may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it’s certainly one of the eeriest. An insidiously cheap creepshow that feels like it’s being projected directly from your nightmares (Harvey used an Arriflex camera – typically used for newsreels – as a cost-cutting measure, adding an unsettling edge of realism)…” David Ehrlich, Time Out
“The idea is none too new and much of the dialogue is irritatingly pretentious but the movie does succeed in creating an effective supernatural atmosphere.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982
Buy DVD: Amazon.co.uk
Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!