Carnival of Souls
Carnival of Souls is an eerie, atmospheric, and haunting film. And it may just be the best black & white horror film ever made. Independently made, and filmed around Saltair Amusement Park, the film has a haunting touch that is rare amongst films made to this day. Which is enriched by the filming location, strong acting, and intelligent use of camera work. Using Saltair in particular adds something special to the it, as the park had recently experienced a devastating fire.
What may seem like a straight forward film soon develops into a series of questions. As you begin to question what is happening to our poor Mary Henry. An organist that is drawn to a carnival at the amusement park. Taking viewers on an adventure that will surely remain with you well after the film’s end.
Directed by Herk Harvey, it would become his one and only feature length. Adding even further to the mystique surrounding the movie. What begins as a story about a woman and her friends transforms into a slow push into madness. Following a car accident with her friends, Mary takes a job as a church organist. Gifted with an ear for music, she begins to play a ominous song instead of what she’s supposed to play. She begins to feel eyes upon her, as her paranoia grows.
Feeding her paranoia further, she begins to see ghastly man, whom shows himself to her whenever she’s alone. Others try their best to help Mary, as she’s clearly dealing with a difficult circumstance. Made only more difficult as these events grow, and she slowly slips into madness. Before she knows it, more spirits begin to appear and she begins to crack under the pressure.
If there’s one thing that separates Carnival of Souls from all other films, it’s the dream-like dread that pulls you in an effortless manner. When you see the film, you’d be hard pressed to believe it was Herk Harvey’s only feature length film. Add in what is roughly a shoestring budget and the film is even more amazing.
When it comes to the location, Saltair Amusement Park had just experienced a fire and was under construction. Some of the effected areas were actually used in the film, giving it this sense of beauty and decay that’s exceptionally well executed. To top it off, the music carries a church-like sound but with a special type of darkness that feels welcoming and ominous. Like a siren song lulling you into a comfortable & welcoming madness.
The black & white picture does a lot to assist the story in mounting it’s thick atmosphere. By lacking color, it provides a sinister feeling while also making you hyper focused to the events onscreen. The exceptional cinematography further enhances each frame, making the story intimidating inside the viewers mind. But all of this wouldn’t work without the brilliant acting by Candace Hilligoss. Watching her go from a hypnotized daze to absolute terror is a visceral experience that is amazing enjoyable.
Why it’s Timeless
Horror films come and go, but few capture the mind like Carnival of Souls continues to do so. From the story, to the acting, to the cinematography and location, careful detail was taken to ensure the audience is taken an eerie journey. For those that are looking to experience to best version of the film, Criterion released a Blu Ray version from the original film reel that is amazing to see.
Few films manage to achieve their best narrative utilizing black & white, devoid of any color. For those fortunate to see the film, the unique presentation gives you something to think about long after the film’s credits roll. A genius, haunting and ominous journey through bedlam. If you appreciate great horror, you won’t regret it.