Day 8 – Carnival of Souls
Director: Herk Harvey.
Starring. Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, USA. 1h 24m.
A cult classic that still influences a host of modern directors, this independent horror film manages to create a bizarre ghostly atmosphere that has been difficult to re-create since.
A few girls are out for a lark, when then encounter some greasers who challenge them to a drag race over a bridge, the girls car crashes in the river and they get pulled along by the rapids, the rescue mission fails to find anything but a shabby and bemused young blonde bombshell emerges from the water the only survivor from this tragic misadventure. Mary’s life is never quite the same after the accident. The church organist relocates to Utah, where she finds herself set apart from the locals and stalked by a strange pasty faced ghoulish man (Harvey) as she’s drawn towards a mysterious carnival on the outskirts of town near the river, where she’s inclined to dance.
Drawing from elements of the universality of death, La Danse Macabre, there’s a unusual modern twist applied in this grim and haunting 60’s film. At first it just seems as if Mary is being stalked by a spectre, along with being preyed upon by a roommate in her new boarding house, it seems everything negative is being attracted to Mary, and yet when she goes out into the town, she either finds herself alone or suddenly everyone starts to ignore her. She find herself on the run from the “man” who’s never named and always in the direction of the carnival.
Candace is perfect in the role of this stunning beauty that’s grabbing at reality and trying to get along with her pious job of playing soulful hymns for the church, but this soon turns into a funeralistic nightmare and she’s fired from her job. As things start to spiral out of control her desperate search for sanctuary and sanity she finds a haven and enters the carnival and the arms of the ghoulish man.
It’s a masterpiece of horror, the old school spooky horror that relies more on folkloric elements, hauntings and damsels who are in some sort of distress, Harvey manages to conjure himself up as the face mask spectre who stalks Mary’s every move, yet rarely ever makes contact, his presence is enough to strike fear into her. The soundtrack is just organ music, and that adds to the “spooky” element, it gives the feeling that I always felt the original Addams family comic strip should have had. Without really giving much away there are careful steps taken to illustrate the limbo which Mary has blissfully walked into, or maybe it could be the grief at losing all of her friends in one go, she might be feeling guilty for making it out alive!? All we can be certain of is that her life has dramatically changed.
In the later throws of the movie more and more ghouls turn up and the dance of death gets bigger and the carnival becomes more active, noisy and ultimately is pulsating with light attracting Mary into it like a blue light to the fly.
The film had literally no budget but managed to creep up on its audience many times, as it slowly ascends into a mad frenzy. There are a few plot holes and some curious characters, but it’s easy to look past them and get lost in the frightful fog and lunacy of the film.
R – Eyes without a face (1960), Dementia 13 (1963)
L – A-Z of Black and White Horrors, La Danse Macabre, was it all a dream.