must be the only film selected for both the Criterion Collection and the
Rifftrax treatment. Rightly or wrongly, it was largely ignored when first
released and would be the only feature narrative helmed by its producer-director.
Yet, Herk Harvey remained a prolific filmmaker, releasing scores of educational
shorts through his Kansas-based Centron Corporation. Like Harvey, many future
horror auteurs honed their craft and bided their time making educational and
industrial films that often strangely foreshadow their macabre work to come.
Fittingly, Harvey’s Carnival of Souls with
the Centron short None for the Road
screen together during Anthology Film Archive’s before-and-after film series, Industrial Terror.
reluctant street racing passenger Mary Henry manages to walk away from a fatal
accident, it ought to be an occasion for some soul searching. However, she
seems determined not to process it. Always temperamentally aloof, she simply
proceeds with her prior plans, accepting a church organist position in Utah arranged
by the owner of the local pipe organ factory. In her new town, Henry tries her
best to cut herself off from social contact, even though she dearly needs an
emotional support system.
during her lonely drive into town, Henry has been haunted by visions of a ghoulish
man. Perhaps even more troubling, she experiences episodes of time-stoppage,
during which the townspeople around appear oblivious to her freaked-out presence.
Spurning offers of help from the kindly priest and concerned Dr. Samuels, Henry
becomes increasingly obsessed with the darkly picturesque abandoned carnival
outside of town.
carnival setting is definitely creepy, but most of Harvey’s film is a rather
Edward Hopper-esque take on the horror movie genre. There is no gore at all,
but the lighting and shadows are all kinds of eerie. Refreshingly, this is the
sort of film where priests and factory owners are good people. Unfortunately
for Henry, there is also very real supernatural business afoot.
some of the line readings are a little stilted, but Harvey’s visual style is
remarkably accomplished, particularly his smooth jump-cut transitions. He
patiently builds an atmosphere of foreboding, rather than resorting to sudden
shock scares, perfectly supported and emphasized by Gene Moore’s unnerving
performance of method-trained Candace Hilligoss (who bears some resemblance to
Judith O’Dea in Romero’s original Night
of the Living, another Industrial
Terror selection) is almost too inwardly focused for the demands of the
genre, but she is certainly convincingly brittle and standoffish. While the
supporting ensemble is admittedly all over the place, Stan Levitt provides a
solid anchor as Dr. Samuels and Harvey himself is effectively ghastly as the
ashen apparition man.
will have its critical champions and detractors,
but you can see its influence in scores of films, such as Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. It is a strong example
of the greater efficacy of suggestiveness rather than splatter in horror
movies. Thematically, it is also a good fit with None for the Road, in which a research scientist gets lab mice
hammered and tries to balance them on metal dowels, while telling kids if they
are going to drink and drive, get so blitzed the Highway Patrol is guaranteed
to pull them over. Science is hardcore. Carnival
of Souls is also weirdly potent stuff. Highly recommended, it screens this
Friday (10/24) and next Tuesday (10/28) as part of Industrial Terror at Anthology Film Archives.
Labels: Anthology Film Archives, Herk Harvey, Horror Movies, Industrial Terror