An ultra-cheap B-horror movie, filmed in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1962, with a really creepyTwilight Zone-style premise and some great shoestring atmosphere. Wandering into a small town after an auto accident, to begin her new job as a church organist, young … see full wiki
The opening credits of CARNIVAL OF SOULS appear on the screen across a turbulent body of water. This symbolic image is augmented by a haunting score of organ music. Then the action begins. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is the passenger in a vehicle with some female friends. A car full of boys challenges the girls to a drag race through the country and it's off to the races. The speeding chase comes to an end when the girls' care accidently swerves off the bridge into the rushing, high-water river below. Hours later as the river is dragged and witnesses are question, Mary climbs out of the river. She is covered in mud, scraped up a little, and chilled from the water. She is alive, but the accident has wiped away her memory of how she escaped.
A week later, Mary moves away from her hometown and begins a cross-country drive to Salt Lake City, Utah where she has accepted a job as an organist in a small church. During the drive, she is almost involved in another accident as she sees the face of a pale, death-like man appear in her window. She also becomes strangely intrigued by a closed Carnival Pavillion on the outskirts of the city. Mary soon settles into her new life, but begins seeing the pale man more frequently. She becomes obsessed with the closed and condemned carnival building outside of town and like the frightening man, the carnival begins to haunt her sleeping dreams and waking thoughts. Soon Mary experiences a phenomena where she cannot hear any sounds except the ones she makes and where other people seem oblivious to her prescence. Mary is an excellent organist, an attractive woman, and a colorful individual but she is told by the preacher at her church, the neighbor next door who lusts after her body, and a counselor who listens to her problems that she seems to have lost her soul. As the organ music picks up tempo, Mary's life snowballs out of control leading to a horrifying confrontation and bitter realization at the Carnival.
CARNVIAL OF SOULS was released in 1962 and was made on a shoe-string budget. Along with the later 1968 film, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, CARNIVAL OF SOULS established the framework and set the foundation for the modern day horror movie. Most of the acting in the movie is standard for a low-budget scary movie, though Hilligoss' performance stands out as a rare exception. Hilligoss had some talent and it would have been interesting to see her in more movies (she only acted in one other movie besides CARNIVAL OF SOULS). The sets are scenery are pretty standard fare and nowadays the plot has been overly done, though in 1962 it was a fairly fresh and original idea. Besides Hilligoss' acting and a few starkly vivid images, the other standout component of the movie is the score. Organ music usually doesn't work very well as a movie score, especially in scary movies. However, the music in CARNIVAL OF SOULS is a key element in establishing the mood and tone of the movie. It's something to remember and like those catchy little advertisement jingles, can haunt one's musical memory for days.
Not everyone will enjoy CARNIVAL OF SOULS and many will find it quite cheesy today. Nevertheless, for movie and horror buffs, the film is worth watching for its cinematic legacy and cult appeal.
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