Carnival of Souls (1962), a.k.a. Why Do I Put Myself Through This? Halloween Edition

First off, Happy Halloween Night, guys and ghouls!

Secondly – as the title of this post indicates – why do I do this to myself?

Mind you, I really do like watching scary films, but usually in mixed company where my sheer terror can be diffused by the enjoyment of watching the film with a group of people.

Well, not this time – this time, I flew solo in a weekend binge of scary movies on TCM and arrived at Carnival of Souls. Actually “re-arrived” – I have seen this film before, but a time ago, which means fragments of the plot specifics slipped through my sieve of a memory; I did recall a sketch of the outline: shortly after surviving a car crash, Mary Henry (played by Candace Hilligoss) embarks on a trip westward to Utah, where she is set to start a new job as a church organist. Along the way, she encounters a creepy apparition (the film’s director Herk Harvey) and is drawn to a long-ago abandoned pavilion by the lake.

Once settled into her new life, Mary continues to have episodes which she cannot explain, including continued reappearances of the apparition, all leading up to a frightful conclusion.

Made for an estimated $33,000 and produced by industrial filmmakers, Carnival of Souls is a brilliant example of how to scare your audience with simple yet effective “tricks,” tricks which left me peeking through my hands:

  • foreboding, suspenseful organ music
  • dispossessed movements of characters
  • character movement toward the camera (= camera is the 1st person POV)
  • cutaways which yield the occasional (and effective) jump scare

So yeah, it was enough to put the frighteners on my this past Saturday night. And with that, I highly recommend this cult classic, which is available on Criterion disk (DVD/BluRay) as well as in the public domain. When accessing make note of the running time. There is a 78-minute theatrical version as well as an 84-minute director’s cut.

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