Herk Harvey was an American filmmaker best known for directing the cult classic horror film Carnival of Souls. Despite having a relatively small body of work, Harvey left an indelible mark on the horror genre.
Early Life and Education
Hark Harvey was born in 1924 in Denver, Colorado. From a young age, Harvey was interested in music and filmmaking.
Passion for Film
As a teenager in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Harvey started making short films with his friends using 8mm film cameras. He found the process of visual storytelling deeply compelling.
Music in College
Harvey studied the clarinet and composition at Colorado College with the initial aim of becoming a music teacher. During this time, his passion for film continued to grow.
After a stint in the military, Harvey began working for the Centron Corporation in Lawrence, Kansas in 1947.
At Centron, Harvey gained invaluable experience writing, shooting, directing and editing industrial films and educational shorts. He learned to work creatively within tight budgets and deadlines.
Collaborating with Other Young Filmmakers
While at Centron, Harvey collaborated with other aspiring filmmakers like Bob Clark with whom he would continue working on future film projects. This collaborative group became known as the “Centron Boys”.
Directing Carnival of Souls
In 1961, Harvey decided to make his first independent feature film, the eerie horror film Carnival of Souls.
Creating the Film on a Tight Budget
The entire film was made for just $33,000, a very small budget even at that time. To save money, Harvey relied on amateur actors and inexpensive locations.
Crafting the Film’s Unique Atmosphere
Shot in a documentary-like style, Carnival of Souls has a strange, surreal atmosphere that critics have compared to the work of directors like Fellini and Bergman.
Later Film Projects
While Carnival of Souls remained Harvey’s best known work, he continued taking on film and television projects in the 1960s and beyond.
Making Industrial Films with Robert Altman
In the 1960s, Harvey went back to directing industrial films, teaming up with Robert Altman and his company. Their educational and training films won many industry awards.
Teaching Film at the University of Kansas
Starting in the 1970s, Harvey taught film production classes at the University of Kansas alongside fellow director and producer Bob Clark. Harvey enjoyed mentoring college students interested in film.
Though Harvey’s filmography is small, the creepy brilliance and visual flair of Carnival of Souls has cemented his cult status in the annals of horror cinema. His industrial films and teaching also impacted many young filmmakers. Harvey proved that you don’t need big budgets or Hollywood studios to create unique, memorable films that resonate with audiences long after their initial release.