One year, one film: 1962
Carnival of Souls, dir. Herk Harvey
Starring Candace Hilligoss
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
Carnival of Souls became an instant favorite for me when I watched it for the Horror Half-Week series in 2012. The mood, the tension, and Candace Hilligoss’ gripping lead performance kept me trapped in the carnival from beginning to end. It’s a very atmospheric film, with plenty of suspense and a puzzling, fascinating resolution. I can’t speak highly enough about this film, and it has become one of my go-to recommendations for anyone who asks me about classic horror or psychological thrillers.
I know my opinion on Carnival of Souls is not an unusual one. I’ve seen many fellow bloggers sing the film’s praises and know that fifty-four years after its release, it is often regarded as a genuine cult classic. But what did the critics of 1962 think of Carnival of Souls?
Before we travel that far back, I’d like to note that Roger Ebert, one of our best-known and most-beloved film critics, reviewed the film in 1989 with a three-star rating. I didn’t always agree with Ebert but have always enjoyed reading his reviews regardless, and in this case our opinions do align. He compared Carnival of Souls to The Twilight Zone, saying that “it ventures to the edge of camp, but never strays across the line, taking itself with an eerie seriousness.”
Reviewing the film at the time of its release, Variety seems to have been at least somewhat impressed, calling it “a creditable can of film considering it was put together for less than $100,000.” The review goes on to praise the film’s suspense, while wishing the story was a bit more beefy. Hilligoss is described as having “a sort of misty quality about her,” which is a brilliant way to describe her performance.
Unfortunately, Variety‘s review was the only contemporary bit of criticism I was able to dig up. Low-budget and independently produced, the film was quite obscure at the time of its release and has only gained a greater number of fans through its home video releases and revival screenings. It now has the honor of being Spine #63 in the Criterion Collection with new DVD and Blu-ray editions to be released next month (July 12, to be specific). If you’re a fan of B-movies or classic thrills, add this one to your own collection!
Such a weird and wonderful film this is. Even though I first saw this at a young age, I could feel that ending coming along down the road slowly but surely. Related trivia? Google “Shake Hands With Danger” for a grim and yet very hilarious work safety film Herk Harvey did for Caterpillar in 1970. It’s mis-dated 1980 in some places, but it sure looks as if it was shot earlier.
Shake Hands with Danger is… unique, haha. That title song!
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Oh, I intentionally didn’t mention that song because it makes that short even better. Interestingly enough, TCM runs this a few times a year and always very early in the morning.
Many years ago, there was a lovely and thoughtful review in the zine “Delirious” that pointed out the feminist undertones of this movie. The female protagonist is constantly being pushed into situations by male authority figures who think they know what is best for her, and she is disapproved of for being “willful,” for wanting to live alone, for being a professional, for refusing to date the sleazy guy next door. Her spells of invisibility seem to echo the invisibility of women in society, while the stalking by the ghost (and the fact that no one believes her about it) echoes the real stalking and harassment women are expected to tolerate.