REVIEW: Carnival of Souls [1962]

“I don’t belong in the world”


This little gem from 1962 has been on my to see list for years. I’ve eyed the Criterion Collection version, almost buying it a couple of times, until finally looking away until I knew for sure it was worth purchasing. I can safely say that Carnival of Souls is well deserving of the Criterion treatment and soon a place in my film catalog. Director Herk Harvey has put together a real work of art and amazingly it was to be his only non-documentary/educational film ever finished. Taking a break from his real directing job, he took two weeks and shot this lone fictional narrative. Harvey definitely had an eye for cinema and it’s a shame no one could persuade him to do more.

Telling the story of a young girl, played nicely by Candace Hilligoss, who crashed into a river with two friends and emerged as the lone survivor. She miraculously leaves the accident scene and continues on with her life, traveling to a church where she will be the new organ player. Along the way she has her first vision of a creepy figure peering at her through her car window. The camerawork is handled expertly as the reflection of her face changes to that of the man. Upon the conclusion of her drive, we are also treated with a nice transition from panning to a black sky that soon opens up to light as we’ve cut to a room’s door. Unfortunately this is the one and only inventive cut, but it begs to wonder whether Marc Forster had seen it before doing transition after transition like it in his masterpiece of emotions, tone, and visuals Stay.

The real question, as far as gleaning goes, is whether David Lynch had seen the film in his lifetime. I have to believe he must have and for that I am eternally grateful to Harvey, because without Carnival of Souls, I may never have been able to see two of my favorite movies in Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.. There is so much that parallels between these three films that it’s hard to believe there is not a connection. Our creepy man from another plane, expertly played by director Harvey himself, is almost carbon-copied into the Mystery Man from Lost Highway. Also, the main drive of a character on the run from reality and suffering, deciding to instead live inside their own head until they can finally cope with what has transpired is paramount to these Lynch films as well as Stay. Bill Pullman, Naomi Watts, and Ryan Gosling all have to deal with their internal demons and a feeling of no longer belonging in the living, rational world, just as Hilligoss needs to as she runs from the souls in her visions.

Just seeing the haunting vision of zombified apparitions dancing at the deserted carnival amongst hanging streamers reflecting light is worth the viewing time of Carnival of Souls. Anyone who treats this film as fodder for “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, which rumor has it that a new dvd edition will have a commentary laugh track by its’ star, is sorely mistaken. This is a work of art that has spawned many of our contemporary classics, at least in my mind. Showing the fourth dimension crossing through a person’s consciousness is stunning to behold and think that it was done forty years ago. Even auteurs like Lynch need inspiration, and I have to say he either picked a good one to borrow from or great minds really do think alike.

Carnival of Souls 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


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