Mary Henry is just an average young woman until a horrible accident claims the lives of several of her friends. Grief stricken, she decides to leave all of her bad memories behind by moving away. She winds up in a sleepy community as a church organist, yet she doesn’t believe in God. “I play for pay,” she tells a local man. He thinks her soul is damned.
Yet Mary doesn’t seem damned so much as empty. She just can’t seem to close off her past, and strange things begin happening to her. Why is she drawn to that mysterious, abandoned carnival grounds just outside of her new home…and is that a corpse stalking her?
“Carnival of Souls” is a certified classic, and deservedly so. It unveils its secrets slowly, building tension and, along the way, saying quite a bit about the human condition. In spite of its 1962 release date, nearly all of what it has to say remains relevant today.
It was filmed in black and white, yet the cinematography is so breathtaking in spots (particularly in long shots of the carnival grounds) that I often forgot I wasn’t watching a more modern movie. In fact, whether by chance or design, parts of this film are evident in other classics (such as “Night of the Living Dead”) and more recent films.
The acting here is top notch, particularly Sidney Berger as one of the most desperate, selfish, manipulative, pathetic men ever filmed. I wanted to reach right through the screen and choke him. Candace Hilligoss does a pretty mean Janet Leigh impersonation as well. Her Mary is lost inside herself, unable to either resolve her grief or accept it.
“Carnival of Souls” may seem deep, but it also manages to be pretty creepy. The final twenty minutes are rapid-fire and tense. It should be seen by anyone who believes the thinking man’s horror film to be a modern invention.
Pros: Crisp photography, some creepy images. Killer final scenes.
Cons: May seem derivative of other, more recent films, although it obviously came first.
Review Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Creepy looking guys with mascara.
“Carnival of Souls” (1962)
Also known as: “Corridors of Evil”
78 Minutes; USA (Original version: 91 Minutes; Director’s cut: 84 Minutes)
Not Rated, but equivalent to a PG for thematic content, implied violence and disturbing images.
Candace Hilligoss (Mary Henry)
Frances Feist (Mrs. Thomas the Landlady)
Sidney Berger (John Linden)
Art Ellison (Minister)
Stan Levitt (Bondage Queen)
Tom McGinnis (Dr. Samuels)
Directed by: Herk Harvey
Viewing Format: Black & White VHS (78 Min. Version)
(Originally published on HorrorWatch)