Directed By: Herk Harvey
Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger
Tag line: "She Was A Stranger Among The Living"
Trivia: The damage to the bridge in the opening scene cost its director $17
For 33 years, Herk Harvey worked as a filmmaker for the Centron Corporation, a company out of Lawrence, Kansas, that produced a variety of industrial and educational films. During that time, he would direct exactly one feature-length motion picture, the atmospheric horror movie Carnival of Souls, that, to this day, is considered a true genre classic.
After being challenged to a drag race, a car carrying three young women accidentally drives off a bridge and sinks into the river below. As authorities are searching for the missing vehicle, one of the woman, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), makes her way to shore, in shock but relatively unharmed. Shortly after this harrowing incident, Mary heads out of town, having already accepted a job as an organist for a small church in Utah. Yet she cannot shake the feeling that something is very wrong with her, and wonders why she's being visited by a strange man (played by director Harvey), whose pale features are more than a little unnerving. Upon her arrival in Utah, Mary checks into a boarding house run by Mrs. Thomas (Frances Feist), yet, for some unknown reason, finds herself drawn to the abandoned carnival grounds situated just outside of town. After a few more visits from the stranger with the white face, Mary is convinced she's losing her mind, yet even this cannot prepare her for the shocking truth that's lying in wait for her at the carnival.
Shot in black and white, Carnival of Souls undoubtedly benefited from the extensive film making experience Harvey obtained while working at Centron. In fact, one of the things that struck me was the film's unusually large number of wide shots, with Harvey positioning his camera a great distance from the on-screen action. There are plenty of examples early on, like the scene where Mary crawls out of the water, but it's also employed in more serene settings as well. By keeping Mary at such a great distance from his audience, Harvey establishes that his main character is very much alone, an isolation he'll explore in greater detail as the story progresses.
This visual style, combined with a handful of memorable scenes (like the one set in the department store, where Mary notices she can no longer hear any sound whatsoever, and that no one can see or hear her), bring an intensely disturbing air to Carnival of Souls, a feeling of dread that continues to grow right up to the film's creepy conclusion.