CARNIVAL OF SOULS is one of the most effective little horror movies
ever made, with a handful of terrifically chilling shots that, once
seen, will never be forgotten. The plot concerns one Mary
(played by the beautiful, stone-faced Candace Hilligoss) who survives a
car crash that sends three of her friends to a watery grave, and then
finds herself drifting in and out of reality, caught between the real
world and a world of nightmares. She is driven to eventual
hysteria by visits from a grim, strange man who seems to enjoy toying
with her emotions.
Made on a budget three times even smaller than that of that later low-budget classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, CARNIVAL OF SOULS has its rough spots and defects, but it is beautifully shot and edited, with some clever and effective transitions between scenes. Although this was industrial film director Herk Harvey's only theatrical movie, he clearly knew what worked and what didn't, he could shoot fast (three weeks) and when he borrowed ideas, he borrowed from the best. Several shots recall PSYCHO, showing how quickly Hitchcock's 1960 film began influencing even low-budget indies made in Lawrence, Kansas. CARNIVAL OF SOULS itself was influential itself and continues to be. For proof, one need only look at George Romero's 2005 LAND OF THE DEAD, with its army of zombies rising from the river recalling the shot from CARNIVAL OF SOULS pictured above.
When a crooked distributor ran away with the profits, Harvey's feature film career came to an abrupt end. A shame - the man obviously had imagination and talent, and a good team behind him, including writer John Clifford, who came up with the story based solely on Harvey's idea of using an abandoned pavilion he had seen near Salt Lake City. - JB
In a scene where she
merely had to cross
the street, actress Candy Hilligoss asked the typical method actor's
question "What's my motivation?". Director Herk Harvey's
was reportedly "Try not to get hit."