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on 27 December 2006
I saw this years ago when BBC 2 ran a late night art house movie strand on Sundays and it has stayed with me ever since. The plot concerns a young woman who has survived a car accident taking up her new job in a small Midwestern town. It is genuinely chilling, creates an otherworldy, unsettling mood with the use of silence, the spiky organ score, a supporting cast of predatory grotesques and bleached black and white cinematography. It also bears comparison with Polanski's 'Repulsion' as a study in isolation and a vulnerable innocent's fast slipping grip on reality; or what she thinks is reality. The climax in the abandoned fairground is deeply spooky, sad and satisfying in equal measure. And on top of all this it has a classic 'jump out of your seat' shock as the heroine drives through a rainy night and looks twice at her reflection in the car's windscreen...
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on 26 November 2001
This film was rediscovered in the 80's and featured on the BBC series "Videodrome". Without wanting to spoil the plot I'll just say that it's a genuinely creepy story that directly inspired George Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead. The plot focuses on Candace Hillgoss as a beautiful but cold church organist (Who is actually non-religious and just plays for money).In the opening scenes we see that she is the only girl to survive when a car filled with her and some friends careers off a bridge. She makes it to shore. From then on she is disturbed by stange nightmares and visions centering on a long abandoned funfair and it's pale inhabitants. That's all the plot I'm going to give away. If you love strange films then I cannot urge you enough to buy this one. As in the original Night of the Living Dead (and for that matter Psycho) the black and white photography only adds to the surrealism and detracts nothing from the plot or the genuine sense of unease that unfolds as the film plays.
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on 26 November 2015
If every low budget horror movie put this much of effort and love into their craft there would be no such thing as a bad horror movie with no money. Made for just $17,000 director Herk Harvey who also stars as the 'man' in the movie has pulled something very unique here. Carnival of Souls was of course a box office disaster and faded from memiry until the 70s and 80s where the movie was frequently shown on late night TV. I myself caught an original airing and was petrified of the movie. As an adult it can all be taken in and appreciated much more now.

The imagery and nightmarish world that our character must go through to learn the truth of her fate is top class, and there are genuine creepy moments laden throughout the movie. The acting is very fair considering most 'actors' were just locales from the film set, but the movie works just fine. In fact countless horror movies have copied many scenes from this film, you end up losing count half way through.

The one criticism towards the film could be that you know what's coming and the cards are dealt early on, but it's such an horrific and glorious encounter that you don't mind one bit. A very important horror movie for the genre.

This review is from the Criterion 2 disc edition which has 2 versions of the movie, commentary, and a ton of extras with booklet so well worth getting over the other editions available.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 January 2014
Mary and her two friends leave the road and fly off a bridge during a friendly dragster race. She is the only survivor and after her recovery she takes up a job as the church organist in a new town, but she is constantly blighted by a ghostly like visitor and periods of time when nobody seems to know she exists.

A hinted spoiler follows.

Carnival Of Souls has thankfully found a whole new audience in the new millennium, the advent of cheap triple pack DVDs and a lush Criterion release have brought it firmly to the attention of Horror/Ghost fans who were not aware that the film even existed. That said, there is no doubting that many big name directors were fully aware of it, tho, for Carnival Of Souls has influenced such luminary genre masters from Romero to Carpenter, and from Hooper to Shyamalan, be it the low budget DIY ethic, or its now genre staple twist ending, it's a film (along with it's director Herk Harvey) that is referenced as much as it is copied.

The tag often used for the film is that it's an elongated Twilight Zone episode, and sure enough I think that is a perfect fit. Its whole structure feels like a part of that wonderful and amazing Rod Serling show, and for sure this story owes a doff of the cap to An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (an Ambrose Bierce short that was reworked and used on Serling's show), but to merely suggest a retread of a previously used idea would be very unfair. Carnival Of Souls is full of eerie sequences that are dream like in quality yet goose pimply in effect. Scored at frequent intervals by a jangling organ shrill, the ghostly phantoms that plague poor Mary actually bring a shiver to the spine; while a surrealistic dance of the carnival is a stunning eerie highlight. It's a wonderfully brought together story that has one pondering uneasily from the get go, managing to jolt your senses adroitly with a very special ending.

With a small budget of only $30,000 and a cast of friends, Herk Harvey crafted one of the best independent horror sub-genre films ever made. Don't believe me? Then go ask Romero, Raimi or Hooper. 8/10
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"Carnival of Souls," the only theatrical film every directed by Herk Harvey, is a cult classic with a most deserved reputation that puts it on a par with dead George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" in terms of shoestring productions. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) accepts a car ride from a group of other young girls, only to end up in a drag race that sees the car go over a bridge with only Mary surviving. Having taken a job as a church organist in Salt Lake City, Mary heads for her new home, passing a deserted pavilion on the outskirts of town. Mary is drawn to the ruined bathing center/carnival, but has bigger problems since she keeps seeing a leering, corpse-like man (played by Harvey) watching her. Again and again Mary has the eerie of experience of suddenly finding herself in a silent world where no one seems to notice her. Eventually she returns to the pavilions to understand her final fate.
"Carnvial of Souls" came about because Herk Harvey drove by Saltair, the deserted 1940s tourist resort outside Salt Lake City, and decided it would make a powerful location for a horror film. Harvey recruited John Clifford to come up with a screenplay that would involve Harvey's image of dead bodies rising from the lake to pursue their victim. The finished product certainly evokes a nightmarish quality that makes you ignore the technical problems with overdubbing, campy performances by the supporting cast, and such. Hilligloss, trained in the Method by Strassberg but denied any hint of her character's motivation by the director, only made one other film, "Curse of the Living Corpse" (1964), but this film is enough to secure her reputation in the field. Sidney Berger (the all too friendly guy down the hall at her boarding house) does a cameo as a cop in the 1998 "Wes Craven Presents Carnival of Souls" debacle, which does not compare on any level to this evocative horror classic.
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on 24 March 2014
First saw this on tv in b/w when a small boy-never forgot it.While not especially scary,it's one of those films you never forget.Would have loved to visit the original Saltair pavilion,but the present one is a mile from the first one.You can clearly see this is a colorised version,but it gives the film a fresher look.
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on 23 October 2013
I first saw this about 20 years ago and finally bought it to find out if it was as creepy and eerily atmospheric as I remembered it being. It's rarely shown on TV so getting it on DVD was my only chance of seeing it again. The recording quality isn't great but I still think the film stands the test of time quite well. There are some scenes that are unintentionally funny but it is still a highly original and daring treatment of the theme. Bit like 'Psycho', in that it follows the story of a blonde woman of slightly dubious moral character whilst other aspects seem to look forward to the work of M Knight Shamalyan. Not flawless by any means but a welcome addition to my collection of ghost and horror movies.
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on 7 March 2009
I have the U.S Criterion DVD and know how good this film can look. Sadly this Network UK DVD doesn't match the Criterion edition in quality but is a fairly good print. The sound is occasionally a bit poor though. I can only reccomend the Criterion DVD which has both the theatrical and extended cuts and lots more!
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on 1 June 2015
Weird and made weirder by the amateur acting which lends it a lost-in-time kind of tone but therefore somehow much more entrancing than some of the professional horror films of the time. You could call it a kind of accident but it has enough thought to be more than that. A cultish film: clumsy but impressive amateur piece with some poetic and creepy moments.
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on 8 January 2014
A haunting and unique black & white 1960's ghostly tale that entertains many genre specifics. A precursor to modern horror traditions. It's darkly creepy, beyond standard fair. The stories main protagonist goes on an adventure she was perhaps originally destined not to make. A second chance after a fatal accident which leaves all but her dead. This close call allows a renewed Mary Henry played by Candace Hilligoss to brake the shackles of small town acceptance. Half road movie, half trip into probable paranoia and a ghostly guide that hints at other matters beyond Mary's slow but growing concern for her state of being and her spiral into perceived madness perhaps? A stunning little independent movie that offers an ending so uniquely spell-bounding with characters that hint at a time and influence that spirited one George A. Romero to create his later 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. A superior gem on every supernatural level. Yes slightly dated but putting that aside, what a uncompromising stunner. Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (1962) defines and offers great riches. A true genre classic.
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