Film Review: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Also known as: Corridors of Evil (reissue)
Release Date: June 1st, 1962 (San Diego)
Directed by: Herk Harvey
Written by: Herk Harvey, John Clifford
Music by: Gene Moore
Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison

Herts-Lion International Corp., 80 Minutes (theatrical), 84 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I don’t belong in the world.” – Mary Henry

Carnival of Souls was a film that I had heard others talk about for a long time but I never got to check it out until it started streaming on The Criterion Channel through FilmStruck. I had heard that it was a great inspiration to George A. Romero and David Lynch and after seeing it, it is hard not to see how it influenced them, as well as other directors.

It is sort of considered a zombie picture, even though it really isn’t. Ghoulish people do haunt Mary, the main character, throughout the film and a big horde of them chases her in the finale but they aren’t traditional zombies or what they would become a few years later with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These undead ghouls, however, certainly made a fine template to what Romero would give us.

Additionally, the look of realism, due to the use of guerrilla filmmaking tactics, would go on to inspire the look of Night of the Living Dead.

Carnival of Souls, despite its surrealism and fantastical elements, has a very real feeling to it. The camera is more fluid, there is a lot of movement and each shot isn’t over produced or the product of meticulous tweaking.

You can also see how the more surreal aspects of the film would inspire Lynch. At one point, in particular, when Mary is driving, a ghostly image is superimposed onto the passenger side window. There are also other surreal moments, many of which would feel at home in Lynch’s work.

The story follows Mary, the sole survivor of a car crash. Strange things happen to Mary as she moves on from the incident and tries to restart her life in a new location. There is a defunct carnival in the distance from her new home that calls to her. As the film moves on, we see strange characters appear to her. It all comes to a head when she can no longer outrun the strange happenings.

The film was shot in Kansas and in Utah, at the SaltAir Resort, which stood in for the carnival pavilion, the center of the story’s supernatural activity. The film was also made for just $33,000, which explains why the director had to go guerrilla to get some of his shots done. The financial limitations, however, are why this film looks so unique and would go on to show future indie filmmakers how to create a quality motion picture without using traditional means.

Carnival of Souls might not be a fully appreciated classic but it is a mother figure to many beloved directors’ early films and for opening the door to new techniques and a visual style that would be adopted by countless filmmakers after this picture’s release.

This is a film that displays an uncanny level of craftsmanship and raw talent on many levels. It is also better acted than a picture like this typically is. And ultimately, it is pretty damn significant when understanding what it paved the way for.

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