Carnival of Souls (1962)

One of the strangest and most effective mood pieces I've seen, director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford created this no-budget macabre masterpiece seemingly out of thin air. Carnival of Souls starts with a car accident and ends with the dead dancing at an abandoned amusement park. The sounds of a church organ haunt nearly every scene and the heroine, trapped in a purgatory neither entirely real nor completely disconnected, fades in and out of the physical world.... kinda like Joey.

Something about this cult film resonates with everyone who sees it. In spite of the fact that it sometimes feels like a dated, beatnik throwaway, Carnival of Souls has another, entirely more complex and haunting quality that remains difficult to describe. If David Lynch captured the essence of a filmed nightmare with Eraserhead, Harvey's film is the cinematic equivalent of an hallucination. Carnival of Souls influenced any number of films that followed, including Romero's early films and Kubrick's The Shining. It's stunningly original and even though you might be inclined to write it off as hokey the first time through, it's a film that you will not soon forget. Its imagery will rattle around in the back of your mind for a long time.

Proof-positive that you don't need buckets of blood (or money) to make an effective horror film, just a great imagination, one trained actress and somebody to play the organ.



the coelacanth said...

amen, brother. this is one of my favourites, and one i'm sure to watch every year around this time. such a creepy (and like you say, influential) oddity. i urge anyone who hasn't seen this to move it to the front of your queue.

and i always waffle back and forth about pulling the trigger on the criterion version, but $50 just seems a little spendy for this film (although it must be said that the criterion - which we have at the fbw - is superb, with two versions of the film and solid extras). i think i have 3 pd copies of varying quality floating around in my collection.

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

I'd recommend watching Dead of Night for Golfing Story and, especially, The Ventriloquist's Dummy. The three other stories just didn't work for me.