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Carnival of Souls Movie Review

harvey film herk tries

For many years, Carnival of Souls was my idea of a genuinely scary movie, far more frightening than Frankenstein or Dracula. In fact, if I watched Carnival of Souls while babysitting, I wanted to wake up all the kids so they could protect me from its terrors. Carnival of Souls was the only feature ever made by Herk Harvey, who was stiffed by distributors in 1962 and never made a dime on the film's original release. The film became a late-night television staple and gradually acquired a loyal audience. Harvey eventually bought back the movie rights and 1989 audiences were finally able to see his original uncut version in a 35mm print. Paradoxically, Harvey's film succeeds because and in spite of its tiny budget. The amateur performances and script banalities demand considerable viewer patience. With more generous funding, though, the film might have strayed from the once-in-a-life-time cast and claustrophobic settings which make it so distinctive. We know we're not in Hollywood anymore from the very beginning. The flat Kansas landscapes and untrained faces have little connection with the cultural symbols that saturate most of the big studio films of 1962. We're light years away from the Warner Bros. and Paramount studios that are processing The Music Man and Elvis Presley musicals. A pretty girl appears to be the victim of a drowning accident, only she picks herself up and travels to another town where she is hired as a church organist and moves into a boarding house. As portrayed by Candace Hilligoss, the girl is extremely sensitive to her surroundings yet somehow disconnected from them. A slimy fellow boarder tries to pick her up. She vacillates between fending him off and encouraging his attention. She shops for clothes in a local department store until she realizes that no one can see her or hear her. She practices on the church organ until she discovers that she has no control over what she plays. She tries to get out of town only to be confronted with one obstacle after another. A psychiatrist and a priest offer empty reassurances. A Carnival of Souls beckons her to accept her true fate. Frankenstein and Dracula provide us with plenty of cheap thrills, but we are unlikely to bump into either of them in real life. All of us WILL come face to face with our own mortality, and Carnival of Souls reminds us that, no matter how much we resist, the outcome is inevitable.

1962 80m/B Candace Hilligoss, Sidney Berger, Frances Feist, Stan Levitt, Art Ellison, Harold (Herk) Harvey; D: Harold (Herk) Harvey; W: John Clifford; C: Maurice Prather. VHS, LV

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