Carnival of Souls - Classic Film Pick
A spontaneous stoplight drag race between three young women and a couple of daredevil boys ends in the watery death of the girls. Inexplicably the film's ghostly protagonist Mary Henry (Candace Hillgoss) later emerges from the river and takes on a job as a church organist (this in spite of her lack of religious affiliation). Director Herk Harvey utilized his experience making hundreds of documentary, educational, industrial films to create this low budget 1962 achievement in gothic surrealism, which draws on elements of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960). Inspired by Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," the eerie story (written by screenwriter John Clifford) follows Mary through a daily life of social alienation and dread. Mary's grip on reality slips over a period of days as she is drawn away from the boarding house where she lives to an abandoned amusement park (Salt Lake City's "Saltair") where she meets the promised "carnival of souls" with whom she rightly belongs. It's easy to see how "Carnival of Souls" influenced George A. Romero's seminal "Night of the Living Dead" (made six years later). Mary represents a deeply troubled waking corpse whose induction to death must occur through a danse macabre amid a carnival setting with a party of ghastly human figures. The film's subdued black and white photography contributes considerably to its poetic palate of physical and emotional coldness.
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