Director: Herk Harvey
Screenplay: John Clifford
Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt
Running Time: 78 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
Once in a while, a film that was initially deemed a failure finds a new lease of life several years later, becoming what is often referred to as a cult classic. One such film was the 1962 horror Carnival of Souls, which was originally released as a double bill with The Devil’s Messenger, to little fanfare. Over time the film found its fanbase though, leading to a re-release in 1989 which helped cement its cult-status. What’s particularly sad about this very long road to recognition though was that the director Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford never made any other feature films, as they were retired by the time people’s love for Carnival of Souls finally appeared (and they have since passed away). The pair worked for Centron Corporation, an industrial film company that made corporate and public information films. They made Carnival of Souls in their holidays, then went back to their day jobs at Centron, which is a real shame as it’s a fantastic film and I’d have loved to have seen what else they could do.
Carnival of Souls opens with a car full of young women, including Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), getting into a road race with a car full of young men. What starts as a bit of fun ends in tragedy when the girls’ car careens off the side of a bridge into the river below. The car can’t be found, but hours later Mary appears from the river, dazed but physically healthy. She’s so traumatized by the event, she feels she has to leave town to escape the memory of what happened. So she heads off to Utah to be a church organist. On the way, she drives past a strange abandoned pavilion on the Great Salt Lake and finds herself strangely drawn to it. It triggers visions of a strange, pale-faced man though who keeps appearing and drawing ever closer. As no one else seems to see him, she begins to question her sanity. Being a strong-willed woman, she feels the need to face the problem head on.