Carnival of Souls (1962) – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review

The “Carnival of Souls” is a low budget horror movie that consists of the life of a woman named Mary Henry after she is in a car accident.  She and two other women crash their car off a bridge into a river.  The car disappears into the muddy river and is given up for lost but after three hours Mary Henry crawls out of the water and claims that she has no memory of the crash or her escape.  She decides to take a job out of state as a church organist in a town next to the Great Salt Lake in Utah.  Along the way she is haunted by the apparition of a man who looks like the animated corpse of a drowning victim.  She is strangely attracted to an abandoned pavilion on the lakefront that had served as a carnival at one point.  Her interactions with her minister employer, her landlady and the neighbor who attempts to interest her romantically are awkward and extremely detached on her part.  And several times during her first few days in the new town she suddenly finds herself detached from the world around her.  Specifically, no one seems able to see or hear her.  Also, she cannot hear any sounds from her surroundings.  Eventually she starts seeing visions of dead people rising out of the lake and dancing in the pavilion.  These visions cause her to lose her job when the minister senses her morbid soul in her organ music.  She turns to the young neighbor to try and ground her in reality but even his clumsy advances cannot spark any strong response from her.  Eventually she is drawn to the pavilion and the drowned dead.  She watches them dancing in the pavilion ballroom and finally they come so close to her that she panics and runs away.  But they chase her onto the beach and finally catch her when she stumbles on the sand.  They surround her and the scene changes to the next morning where a search party including the minister and a policeman look at some footprints on the sand and nothing more.  She has completely vanished leaving just her car.  In the next scene we are back in her home town and the crashed car has finally been located in the river and the bodies of the two women and Mary Henry are all in the car (and strangely not decomposed after all the time under water).  The End.

There are a lot of things wrong with this movie.  It was made on a very low budget without professional actors and it shows.  I guess it would be called cinema verité.  But the amateurish quality of the cinematography and the flat recital of the lines makes you wonder why you would watch such a cheesy offering.  But the nature of the scene at the end of the movie with the dance of the drowned corpses is the very essence of horror.  It is almost iconic and I think it has inspired some later works that are recognized as successful, specifically I think the haunted house in Stephen King’s “The Shining” owes something to this movie.  And there is at least one episode of the Twilight Zone that seems to borrow heavily from this story.

So, there you have it.  This is a cheesy amateurish film from 1962 that also contains an image that I think is authentically evocative of what we call horror in film.  You’ll have to decide if that makes it worth seeing.

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
4 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chemist
Chemist
30 days ago

Sounds like a bad Twilight Zone episode.

For the record, I think the height of laziness is writing a story that ends with any of these:
“And she was dead the whole time”
“And she wasn’t dead after all”
“It was all a dream”
“It wasn’t a dream after all”
“It was just a game”
“It wasn’t a game after all.”

Chemist
Chemist
30 days ago
Reply to  photog

Well, I’m glad that you watch these things so we don’t have to.
I cannot imagine sitting through the whole movie for just that scene. Maybe of it were on YouTube. . .

4
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x