Cult horror to be rediscovered with great surprise, “Carnival of souls“, is a strange low-budget American independent horror film made in 1962. which became almost invisible for decades due to distribution bankruptcy. The progenitor of the “Twilight Zone” style horror-purgatory, he puts the supernatural at the center of the story, which breaks through the daily life of an ordinary woman. It is now a cult film that has been screened in US arthouse cinemas for many years for Halloween, and has become more understandable to viewers. A film that at the time went much further, without ever exaggerating, managing to express truly disturbing emotions.
Carnival of souls: the plot
Candace Hilligoss, who plays Mary, the main protagonist, crashes into a railing of a wooden bridge and falls into the river below. Police and divers search in vain for the car, until Mary re-emerges on the banks of the river dazed, the only survivor.
What happened to the others? How did she run away her? She does not know. And she doesn’t care. She is a fragile and cold girl who works as a church organist but does not take religion seriously. This is despite the fact that her organ seems to be trying to tell her something. Many unforgettable images and cinema moments are scattered throughout this arthouse horror film, which remained invisible for more than 20 years, until it was released on home video in the United States.
A few days after miraculously escaping death Mary leaves town for a job in Utah, playing the organ in a new church, and from then on a ghostly figure will follow her everywhere (the ghostly man is played by the director himself, Herk Harvey). She rents a room in a guesthouse run by an elderly woman, played by Frances Feist. There is another boarder, Linden (Sidney Berger), a womanizer who starts making advances right away.
Carnival of souls is different from the usual horror films, especially from the contemporary ones: zero special effects but many psychedelic influences and journeys into different levels of existence, with a splendid black and white, and incredibly effective atmosphere and acting. His influences have probably reached as far as directors like David Lynch or George Romero. Blue Velvet, Night of the Living Dead and Lost Roads seem to have drawn inspiration from several components of this film.