Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Candace Hilligoss
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962). Director: Herk Harvey.

Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is one of three young women whose car goes over a bridge and sinks deep into a river, but she is the only one who survives. Mary is a blunt, direct person whose reaction to the tragedy is to have no reaction at all. Traveling to a new town, she gets a room in a boarding house and a new job as church organist. But everywhere she goes Mary is followed by a gaunt, creepy fellow (played by director Harvey), and on other occasions no one can see or hear her, as if she has stepped out of existence. She becomes obsessed by the idea that she will learn the truth about herself at a huge abandoned dance hall near the water. But she may have preferred that she remained in blissful ignorance.

Stan Levitt and Candace Hilligoss
The low-budget but creatively filmed Carnival of Souls was undoubtedly influenced by the 1960 Twilight Zone episode "The Hitch-hiker," or by its source, Lucille Fletcher's famous radio play. But this variation on a theme has its own pleasures, not the least of which is the location filming, especially in that real abandoned dance hall on the beach. The performances are better than you might expect in a 99 cent item, although Hilligoss -- who clearly felt she was superior to the material -- comes off like a talented amateur who needs some seasoning. In fact the film itself seems in many ways like an admirable but amateur movie that might have amounted to much more (especially given those locations) had a more experienced director been at the helm --most of Harvey's films were documentaries -- but for what it is, Carnival of Souls is not bad.

Dance of the Dead
Some of the other cast members make a positive impression. Sidney Berger is excellent as the slimy John Linden, who lives in the boarding house with Mary and has an obvious and vulgar yen for her. Frances Feist, who plays the landlady and appeared on Broadway in Harvey, gets across her general uneasiness when in the presence of Mary, and there is also some good work from Art Ellison as a sympathetic minister and Stan Levitt as a doctor who tries to help Mary deal with her problems. Carnival of Souls has silly aspects -- with the creepy man turning up all over the place for an almost comical effect, and its quasi-religious aspects aren't well-handled --  but it is also undeniably eerie and compelling. The sequences when no one can see or hear Mary and she feels as if she has simply ceased to exist are disturbing, as is the not unexpected denouement. Maurice Prather's cinematography is a decided asset; most of his work was on documentaries. Sidney Berger was an acting coach; his only other film credit was a bit in the 1999 remake.

Verdict: Highly interesting low-budget spook fest. ***. 


angelman66 said...

It’s been a while since I have seen this but it’s a good one—makes a great double feature with Night of the Living Dead! two low budget black and white low budget thrillers that have become total cult classics...
- Chris

William said...

Yes, it's odd how this picture has endured considering it was made in Kansas or someplace like that.