Saturday, July 8, 2017

You’re Not Paranoid If They’re Really Coming to Get You, or Thoughts on Carnival of Souls

Moody, atmospheric and Hitchcock-esque, Carnival of Souls (1962) is a master lesson in low-budget filmmaking reminiscent of Georges Cluzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) in style and tone and also a primary influence for George A. Romero’s Night of The Living Dead (1968).  The macabre surrealism is enhanced by a creepy haunted house organ soundtrack and an equally creepy premise; a woman survives a car crash into a river only to be pursued by a ghostly man in black.
Candace Hilligoss, a classic mid-century Hitchcock blonde who never got her big break, portrays Mary, the accident survivor who moves to a small town to escape her demons, only to have them follow her.  She fades in and out of reality, where she’s ignored and unheard as if no one can see her, and is drawn to an abandoned fairground (see title) while being pursed by that man in black, portrayed with gleeful seriousness by writer and director Herk Harvey.
Herk Harvey was primarily known for his educational and industrial films, Carnival of Souls is his only feature film.  Taut, economical and with no special effects, the frights are accomplished with clever editing and his impressive skills at getting the most relaxed and natural performances from his amateur cast. 
One of the appeals of these old scary movies for me (besides the scary parts) is the opportunity to see mid-century fashions, cars, advertisements, and actual daily life.  Carnival of Souls filmed on location in downtown Salt Lake City and there are scenes where Herk just had Candace run down a sidewalk.  But if you expand your focus, and look around her, you see that the filmmaker has also captured their time and world.  There are minute details that can’t be recreated in a period film, tiny unintentional snapshots that serve as archeological layers of a forgotten era.

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