Carnival of Souls


Director: Herk Harvy

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The original, classic horror film Carnival of Souls was truly worth it on DVD, having lots of extras. One of the extras is so nerdy it was wonderful -- showing the cast, producer, director, writer, others who were involved in the film, reunited at a fannish convention, some of them on a wonderfully goofy panel of the sort we've all experienced as audience members or panelists.

It was so charming to see that director Herk Harvy showed up to the event dressed up like the ghost called "the man" & being so sweetly a fanboy at his age, makes us all seem kind of equal somehow, all equally a bunch of cute dorks, as opposed to us the dorky fans vs them the cool creators.

Also, the selection of out-takes strung together was almost like another movie -- one of those old surreal nonsensical experimental films like early Ken Anger or something even worse, but arty.

The film itself holds up to re-watching. Sometimes it seems like a European art film rather than an American drive-in-movie cheapy. Visually it is reminiscent here & there of such elegant films as the French horror classic Eyes Without a Face (1959) which I bet both author & director had seen.

I wouldn't quite declare Carnival of Souls among the greatest of classics, though it is great. On some level it is nothing more but an overlong Twilight Zone episode, & on another level, it inspired very few later films of artistic merit, but a whole slug of cheapo-zomby-films (though if that would include George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, then even this influence can be judged a great thing).

Certainly the author & director hoped they were making an arty film instead of crappy exploitation horror, & it realistically deserves a place about midway between art & exploitation, a genuine hybrid.

Surprisingly good acting for amateurs & semi-professionals certainly helped make this film the success it is, though mainly it was the cinemagraphic imagination that made the most out of the least, imaginative use of music, & the incredible ruined carnival & dance hall they stumbled upon in which to shoot it -- that was like a multi-million dollar set for a thirteen-thousand-dollar movie.

But without Candice Hillgoss's central performance, it could never have been what it is. Her face it so beautiful but with that lazy-eye lending her such crazed strange looks. The scene where she plays the Satanic organ Ępiece, which gets her fired from her church organist job, that works so well because of her face. She is such a unique film presence, it is strange she didn't overall have much of an acting career.

The director is one of the most obscure of all winners of the Academy Award, which he got for best short documentary back in the late 60s. In the DVD interviews & extras, this is never mentioned, like it meant nothing, which career-wise, it apparently did mean nothing. It amazes me that neither this little horror film, nor his Academy Award, launched him into a bigger filmmaking career.

Most of Herk's talent was wasted making instructional school & industrial films, stuff like "Don't Be a Bully!" or "Welcome to the Tool Factory" (titles not real, but he did make such films, including one about bullies). As tiny legacies go, Carnival of Souls is a lovely one, but it's too bad there aren't a half-dozen other old horror films by him to track down.

copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl

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