Carnival of Souls

Carnival of Souls
(Herk Harvey, 1962)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster
Summary: 55 years later, Herk Harvey's vintage horror Carnival of Souls has lost none of its foreboding atmosphere. A creeping, mesmerising classic.
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It feels like such a loss to cinema that Herk Harvey only did one feature film. And even that couldn't make it to the hour and a half mark. The director, who lensed hundreds of industrial, education and documentary short films only appeared to venture into full-length fiction narratives one time. But what a mark he left. Carnival of Souls is a true classic.
Harvey's 1962 horror starts off atmospherically with a car crashing through a bridge and plunging into the murky waters below. A dazed woman appears and climbs up the shore but as this aspiring church organist attempts to relocate to Salt Lake City she will haunted, hounded and molested by silent forces who threaten to shatter her sanity.
Carnival of Souls has the feel of Dreyer's seminal horror Vampyr, perhaps due to its largely silent dread but other filmmaking influences seem to be apparent as well: the psychological torment and dream inspired photography of Ingmar Bergman spring to mind, the mounting suspense of a Hitchcock, the cruel revelations of a Clouzot.
Don't mistake Carnival of Souls as a cheap drive-in cinema B-movie reject This is a premium cinematic exercise into how scares can be achieved on screen but also, crucially, long after the final scene has been played out. As with the best horror pictures, Carnival of Souls plays into something universal and primal within us - a fear of not knowing where we belong.
For a film of this age, the picture quality on the Criterion Blu-ray is superb. This is the definitive home entertainment version of this engaging classic chiller. It contains the following features:
New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Selected-scene audio commentary featuring director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford
New interview with comedian and writer Dana Gould
New video essay by film critic David Cairns
The Movie That Wouldn't Die!, a documentary on the 1989 reunion of the film's cast and crew
The Carnival Tour, a 2000 update on the film's locations
Excerpts from movies made by the Centron Corporation, an industrial film company based in Lawrence, Kansas, that once employed Harvey and Clifford
Deleted scenes
Outtakes, accompanied by Gene Moore's organ score
History of the Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City, where key scenes in the film were shot
Trailer
PLUS: An essay by writer and programmer Kier-La Janisse

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