Template:Otheruses Template:Infobox Film Carnival of Souls is a horror film released in 1962. Produced and directed by Herk Harvey for an estimated $33,000, the movie never gained widespread public attention when it was originally released as it was intended as a B film and today, has become somewhat of a cult classic. Set to an organ score by Gene Moore, Carnival of Souls relies more on atmosphere than on special effects to create its mood of horror. The film has a extremly large cult following and occasionally has screenings at local film and Halloween festivals.
Herk Harvey was a Lawrence, Kansas-based director and producer of industrial and educational films for the Centron Corporation. While vacationing in Salt Lake City, he developed the idea for the movie after driving past the abandoned Saltair Pavilion. Hiring an unknown actress, Lee Strasberg-trained Candace Hilligoss, and otherwise employing mostly local talent, he shot Carnival of Souls in three weeks, on location in Lawrence and Salt Lake City.
The film tells the story of Mary Henry, a talented young organist (Hilligoss). At the film’s beginning, the car in which Mary is riding, driven by a young lady, played by Lawrence student MaryAnn Harris, whom some boys in a nearby car challenge to a drag race, plunges off a bridge and into a river. Although the others in the car die, Mary, a mere passenger, mysteriously survives.
When we begin to focus on Mary's character, first as she is drawn back to the scene of the accident, and then as she performs an impromptu concert in an organ factory. While she is obviously a gifted organist, her interaction with the factory supervisor is emotionless and even cold, and there is a suggestion that she has become this way because of the accident.
Mary then travels to Salt Lake City, where she takes a new job playing organ at a church. While driving there, she passes a large, abandoned pavilion (in reality, Salt Lake City’s Saltair amusement park), which seems to beckon to her in the twilight. Shortly thereafter, while driving along a deserted stretch of road, she sees an apparition: a deformed, ghoulish figure (aka the Man, played by director Herk Harvey) whose image replaces her reflection in the passenger window. He stares at her fixedly through the window of her moving car until her own image returns.
As the film progresses, Mary becomes acquainted with her new landlady and a lecherous, sinister fellow tenant (played by Sidney Berger, now University of Houston School of Theatre Director ). Again and again, her reflection is replaced with the Man's image. At the same time, she continues to see visions of the Man that are no longer confined to mirrors or window reflections. Although no one else is aware of his presence, she begins to experience terrifying moments when she herself becomes invisible and inaudible to the rest of the world, as if she simply isn’t there.
The dynamic soon becomes one of her suspension between the regular world and the world of the Man, or, more bluntly, between the realms of the living and the dead. At times she holds herself aloof from her fellow boarder, clearly repulsed by his carnal desires; at others she seems to encourage his advances. At one moment she seems in control of her life, dismissive of anything supernatural (including the possible salvation of religion); at the next she is frightened of the unknown, beyond the help of science (in the person of a doctor from whom she seeks help) and religion, as represented by the minister (Art Ellison) of the church where she plays.
After arriving in town, Mary starts to become obsessed by the pavilion, as if she is somehow tied to it in a way that she can’t understand. She is also haunted by the organ music she seems to hear along with the audience--organ music which, unlike the wholesome tunes she played in the film’s earlier scenes, grows darker, more sinister, and finally somewhat demented. (This devolution is heightened by the fact that the film's score is played not on a church organ but a theater organ, which is capable of producing many unique sounds that in the context of this film come across as quite eerie.) On her drive to Salt Lake City, she can find nothing on her car radio but this odd music. At one point, as she plays hymns on the church organ, her music turns eerie as (unknown to her) the Man appears below the organ loft; later, while taking a bath, she does a series of steps to the music in her head, a cross between playing the organ and dancing.
These latter sequences foreshadow one of the film’s eeriest, best-shot, and most classic scenes. While at first Mary was unable to connect to the “real” world, she suddenly begins to open up and connect all too easily to the world of the Man; this shift is ingeniously represented by her sudden metamorphosis, in this key sequence, from a prim church organist to a seductress, if—perhaps—an unwilling one. While practicing alone in church one night, she falls into a trance. She pauses briefly and then resumes playing; as she does, her music abruptly shifts from proper and respectable hymns to a weird, demonic melody. Intercut with scenes of stained-glass windows and lengthening shadows, Mary begins to sway suggestively to her music, and her splayed fingers now caress the keys with expansive, openly sensuous gestures very different from any that she has used before. Also unlike her earlier organ performances, we suddenly see that she has kicked off her shoes and is playing barefoot, a surprising touch that makes her performance even more seductive and wanton. As she plays, her hands begin stroking the keyboards more urgently while her bare feet move dreamily on the organ’s long rows of pedals, her toes gently working them nearly en pointe in a coquettish ballet.
As Mary continues to coax her malevolent tune from the organ, she moves more deeply into trance, beginning to experience an extended impressionistic vision of a throng of ghouls emerging from the water to waltz to her music in the pavilion’s ruined ballroom. As the Man moves towards her and then reaches out for her while she watches in numb horror, her fingers spasm on the keyboards, signaling the approach of a not-too-metaphorical climax. But just before it occurs, the minister appears suddenly and wrenches her hands from the organ, furiously calling her music sacrilege. He "asks her to resign" because of her lack of reverence and awareness of things significant to the church and concisely laments her "lack of soul". Before she leaves he softens his attitude a bit and tells her that the church can offer her help. She departs barefoot, in totally wordless dejection. At this point she seems to know that she is lost, and from here on her appeals for help to her acquaintances become more desperate.
After the organ trance scene, the ghouls appear more often. In one later scene, Harvey blurs the distinction between the real and surreal still further, by showing us that Mary has, at least apparently, been asleep and dreaming some of the scenes involving the ghouls. Though Mary tries frantically to escape them--at one point boarding a bus to leave town only to find that ghouls comprise all of the passengers--in the end she cannot resist being drawn back to the pavilion one last time, where they proceed to chase her down and spirit her away. The minister, the doctor, and the police, arriving at the pavilion to investigate, cannot explain her mysterious disappearance, as her bare footprints in the sand (the only ones) end abruptly, and her body is missing. The film’s final scene, however, shows us what had been hidden from Mary all along: a shot of her lifeless body in the car that plunged into the river. She has been dead all the while...
- Main article: Carnival of Souls (1998 film)
Before the film had lapsed into public domainTemplate:Dubious, negotiations with the film's writer, John Clifford, and the director, Herk Harvey, led in 1998 to a remake directed by Adam Grossman and Ian Kessner and starring Bobbie Phillips. The remake has little in common with the 1960s film, borrowing little more than the revelation at the end. Sidney Berger, who had appeared in the original film as John Linden, appeared in a cameo in the re-make, as a tribute. The remake followed the story of a young woman (Phillips) and her confrontation with her mother's murderer Larry Miller. The film makers had asked for Candace Hilligoss, the star of the first film to also appear in it, but she declined, feeling that Clifford and the film makers of the re-make had shown disrespect to her in initiating the film without consulting her or considering her treatment for a sequel to the 1962 version. The remake was marketed as Wes Craven Presents 'Carnival of Souls'. It received negative appraisals from most reviewers and did not manage to secure theatrical release, going direct to video.
Home video availabilityEdit
The film varies in length from 78 minutes in theatrical release to 91 minutes in the original cut. The Criterion Collection edition of the film contains the 78 minute theatrical version of the film and an 83 minute director's cut. The Legend Films edition of the film contains both colorized and black and white versions of the aforementioned director's cut and a humorous audio commentary track by Michael J. Nelson, a former writer and host of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The comedian mocks the low budget film's flaws in the style of an episode of the series.
In Popular cultureEdit
- The English electronica band Orbital sampled the line "Why can't anybody hear me?" for their track "Spare Parts Express" on their 1999 album The Middle of Nowhere.
- The plot of this film is very similar to that of one of the first Twilight Zone episodes, "The Hitchhiker"
- This movie inspired the 1998 Midway game CarnEvil.
- Carnival of Souls at the Internet Movie Database
- Download Carnival of Souls at the Internet Archive
- Criterion Collection essay by John Clifford
- Criterion Collection essay by Bruce Kawinde:Tanz der toten Seelen (1962)
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