I was so bummed when my last post about Diary of the Dead was such a downer, because I love zombie movies. I’m making it up, though, with Carnival of Souls from 1962. I love this movie. I love it good. And the shame is that I never hear people talk about it. I was *this* close to putting it on my top twenty list and now I regret not adding it.
The thing is, it’s not really scary but it is definitely spooky. It gets under your skin. Now, the plot-line is definitely familiar. If you’ve seen an episode of The Twilight Zone, then you know where the story is going. Especially one of my favorite episodes, “The Hitch-Hiker” from 1959.
Mary Henry is the only survivor of a drag-racing accident.
The dialogue seen from Mary’s point of view has an odd, echoey quality. Everything seems very removed.
Mary is a church organist and after surviving the accident is planning to move to Utah. However, she’s not a believer. As she puts it, “I’m not taking the vows.” While driving to Utah she starts seeing a shadowy, ghoulish figure (Played by the director, Herk Harvey, who made industrial movies before this one).
He’s looking in her passenger window:
Then he’s standing in the road:
Mary starts to see him everywhere in her new life. To make things worse, she starts having episodes where people can’t hear or see her. She tells a doctor and he accuses her of being hysterical. The guy across the hall from Mary at the boarding house where she lives calls her cold. I know this movie was made in 1962 and I’m not sure if this was the director’s intent, but it just seems like the men around Mary can’t handle her independence and her lack of faith. Mary seems bound by her life.
She finally visits the abandoned pavilion that she’s been obsessed with since moving to Utah.
Mary goes to her church to rehearse. Something seems to overtake her and she starts to caress the keys and play increasingly raucous, carnival music.
She also has a vision of more ghouls at the abandoned pavilion.
This includes an incredibly spooky scene of them waltzing to this carnival music. The scene is simple and not bloody or gorey but still creepy. If I ever throw an awesomely huge Halloween party, I want dozens of people reenacting this scene.
The minister who overhears this is horrified and fires her from her job.
Without a job, Mary leaves her apartment even though she doesn’t really know where this is going. Then she has another one of those episodes where no one sees or hears her and returns to the pavilion. I’m pretty sure you know where this is going so I won’t even say it.
I love this movie. I love the imagery and the way the director plays with shadow and light and silhouettes. The music is so creepy but not overwhelming. The actress who plays Mary Henry, Candace Hilligoss, has a unique, kind of fragile beauty. I try not to comment about women’s appearances in scary movies. I feel like too many people do that anyway. I mean, we’re talking about a genre that I happen to love but is also notorious for T&A. But casting does make a difference and I don’t know if another woman could have made the movie work the way Ms. Hilligoss did. Mostly, what I think this movie shows is that you don’t need a lot to make something scary. This movie was made for $33,000. So take that, Michael Bay.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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