Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling

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The Criterion Blogathon is hosted by three truly prolific bloggers, and I want to thank them for allowing me to join in paying tribute to the collection of landmark, art-house & original films from around the globe! Hosted by Aaron at Criterion Blues, Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth at Silver Screenings!

When they started to hint that this blogathon was going to be BIG… none of us had any idea just how BIG!!!! BIG was!

Criterion Eerie Cinema of the 60s -‘That Haunting Feeling!

The trend of classical Gothic ghost stories in a decade of disorder…

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Carnival of Souls 1962:

Carnival of Souls

  • “When we are young we read and believe the most fantastic things. When we grow older and wiser we learn with perhaps a little regret that these things can never be. We are quite, quite wrong!” Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit

  • Is all that we see or seem… But a dream within a dream?” Edgar Allan Poe – A Dream Within a Dream

  • “I don’t belong in the world”Mary Henry-Carnival of Souls 1962

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Carnival of Souls (1962) was produced & directed by Herk Harvey who originally shot industrial & educational geographical shorts and found himself traveling all over the United States. He came across some inspiring locations when he decided to try his hand at an intellectual horror story. When he stumbled onto the abandoned Pavilion in Utah, which at one time was a grand party spot in the earlier part of the century, between the corrosive salt water air and the years of neglect, Harvey knew that he had found the right place to film his arty horror film.

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Saltair Pavilion: Historical photograph

Carnival of Souls doesn’t rely on it’s sparse dialogue to tell it’s story, for it’s the visual cues, and the spasms of unreality that become the narrator. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is a ‘liminal’ wanderer , a heroine who is in a state of transition who occupies both sides of a threshold between reality & oblivion.

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When Mary experiences bouts of her non-existence in public places, where people act as if she isn’t there, and when all noises and sounds go away and she is stuck in a silent world… she can touch a tree and the chirping of birds re-connects her to reality. This image represents the liminal space she occupies. But don’t get smart alecky with me, I know the difference between liminal and a tree limb! just a co-incidence people just a co-incidence…

After having several unfortunate mis-dealings with corrupt distribution houses like Hertz Lion on it’s initial release, and small indie companies that packaged the film as part of collection of B-Movie horror box sets in 1989. In 2000 Carnival of Souls received it’s rightful induction into the Criterion Collection when they put this beautifully artistic horror gem in their extraordinary catalog.

Herk Harvey was a devotee to Ingmar Bergman and more specifically his cinematographer Sven Nykvist (The Virgin Spring 1960, Through a Glass Darkly 1961 Persona 1966, Pretty Baby 1978, The Postman Always Rings Twice 1981, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988). Harvey tried to impart this inspiration to his camera guy Maurice Prather, in terms of how he envisioned lighting the film.

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Here’s a dismissive description of our female heroine aside from ‘misfit heroine’ which at least the character sees herself as an ‘outsider’… going through some life altering surreal journey … from Roger Ebert in 1989: “The movie stars Candace Hilligoss, one of those worried blonds like Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960)…

When women have something praying on their minds , it’s called worry, or if she takes that worry further and voices her anxiety, it’s called hysteria. If the same situation befell a man, he’d be a courageous loner trying to find his way through a challenge. No look of worry on his face. It would be called ‘determination.’

Film critic Roger Ebert also had this to say about Carnival of Souls back during it’s revival in 1989. Carnival of Souls” is a odd obscure horror film that was made on a low budget in 1962 in Lawrence Kansas., and still has an intriguing power. Like a lost episode from “Twilight Zone”, it places the supernatural right in the middle of everyday life and surrounds it with ordinary people. It ventures to the edge of camp, but never strays across the line taking itself with an eerie seriousness.”…{….} And another effective moment when she’s in a car on a deserted highway and the radio only picks up organ music.”

Harvey came up with the story but it was scripted by writer John Clifford, who fashioned his hallucinatory version of the story as a psychological fun house ride in the same mold of Rod Serling’s anthology series, Twilight Zone. I got the same vibe myself when re-viewing the film, as it reminded me of the Hitch-Hiker episode with Inger Stevens. You can see the correlation between the heroine falling into a nether space that mimics life’s mundane locations, yet something is quite off — between her reality and the connection to those places. The tone of Carnival of Souls is somber and the colors are monochromatic which allows for the emergence of the “Man” to project even more supremacy over the mood and motion because of the lack of grey areas. He stands out superbly as the film’s boogeyman. Carnival of Souls is a story that doesn’t rely on elucidating or crucial dialogue. It is driven by eerie & arresting visual cues.

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Carnival of souls is hauntingly gritty, menacing and an ethereal nightmarish journey that our ‘misfit heroine’ (source -Jarenski) -archetype Mary Henry must roam through in order to find her place in the world… it is a visual and sensory driven allegory. Mary Henry, straddles the plain between reality and unreality, life & death, belonging & alienation, an outcast who is “unfit for the mundane world.” The film works based on the premise that Mary is unusual, an outcast or outsider. Even the people surrounding her act jittery, a bit bewildered and uncomfortable by her strange manner.

Gene Moore was responsible for the score that consists of REUTER ORGAN with exposed pipes. He had access to the Reuter Organ Factory and became inspired to use it as the musical undercurrent of calliope. It also gave Harvey the idea to use this motif as Mary Henry’s profession, and place of employment. With all the organ inflections and swells it is only Mary and us, who ever hear the magnificent instrument playing, filling out all the nuanced spaces without intruding, it is subtle and multi-layered for such a powerful instrument, that works well with the macabre carnival atmosphere.

The art and set direction are literally the real locations that Harvey and Clifford felt inspired by. They would sneak the crew in to film before getting booted out. The amusement park Pavilion called the Saltair, was shot in Great Salt Lake City Utah.

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With the exception of Candace Hilligoss who trained in New York City as a method actor under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg, and character actor Sidney Berger as the lascivious neighbor John Lindon, the rest of the cast is virtually unknown non actors. Herk Harvey had requested that they scout for an accomplished New York Actress, and they found Hilligoss! Although Harvey refused to give Hilligoss any cues or background motivation for her character. She, like the other players had no rehearsals nor were they allowed or given any re-takes.

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Herk Harvey himself plays the ever-present ‘the Man’ as he is credited, who is the sinister presence that stalks Mary throughout the film. He creates an unsettling presence like the lurking archetype of ‘Death.’

Both Herk Harvy and John Clifford evaluated the final film saying that it had the art-house feel that they were shooting for, in their words  “The visual style with an Ingmar Bergman look & the mood of a Jean Cocteau film.” with a supernatural theme.

The film could also be viewed slightly in the realm of a Neo-Realist work, ‘Post WWII, Italy working under the constraints of a war torn nation, they were filmed in real locations with non-professional actors.’ -Gary J. & Susan Svehla

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Carnival of Souls attains a gritty naturalism, with the non created sets or the use of recognizable actors, except for Candace Hilligoss who wasn’t even given any direction about her character’s motivation! ironic for a method actor who trained under the master Lee Strasberg… Hilligoss’ state of un-ease was authentic…

The make up for what I’m calling the ‘Dead Ensemble‘ came about because of the budgetary restrictions. Using egg whites, yes egg whites, what happened as a happy accident was a chilling & effective look of rotting flesh, and the pale gray glow of death. The egg whites created the pasty grey and flaky tone due to the use of B&W film stock.

To get permission to film the car plunging into the Kaw River in Kansas, the film crew had to agree to pick-up the tab for any repairs to the bridge. In fact the police attempted to arrest Harvey for attempted murder til Harvey showed it to be a simulation for their film and not a real accident.

Filming the entire movie in a month much of the footage was executed with guerrilla -like shooting tactics because they would have to get in and out of the settings, grab the few shots on that location due to not having permits to be there or to close the streets for filming! Most of the audio was post-dubbed, so it was an impossible task to get the syncing just right.

Sadly, With all the financial problems and the lack of recognition that the film failed to get initially turned both Herk Harvey and John Clifford off from making another picture.

The film opens on a street of a Midwestern heartland town where three young women in a car are being challenged to a drag race by a gang of young hoodlums. When the driver agrees, the girls begin to tear up the road and head over the very narrow bridge. All three including Mary Henry (Hiligoss) plunge off the bridge into the murky waters below. As the car falls beneath the clouded river, the film’s credit’s ripple over the surface of the water, creating an eerie prelude to the story.

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drag race begins

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car goes into the river

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This image strikes me as a portrait of Americana- a photo that Shelby Lee Adams might have taken. The menfolk almost looming like apathetic vultures over the car wrecked in the river below

out of the water onto the landing

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another similar view -the men looking down on Mary Henry -objectification & a silent pronouncement from the patriarchy!

The sole survivor, Mary emerges from the cold river, drenched like a drowned and rotting water lily, smeared and splattered in mud. While the rescue party arrives on the scene, local townspeople are there, and the police work on raising up the submerged car, Mary walks out of the water staggering onto the jettee. Mary is asked about the other two women in the car but she tells them that she doesn’t remember anything. Mary just walks away from the scene of the accident.

As if the entire ordeal was just a dream you wake from to find that it isn’t real, it hasn’t happened, Mary walks away and returns to her job at the organ factory. She tells her boss that she has decided to make a change in her life. She has taken a position as a church organist in another city in Utah. When her co-workers gossip about Mary’s decision they remark in a bit of foretelling dialogue, giving away some dreary foreshadowing of things to come for Mary , “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.”

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“Mary it takes more than intellect to be a musician… put your soul into it.”

Mary leaves town, she drives past the scene of the accident. She begins to experience a sense of panic, of trepidation washing over her , but she makes it across the bridge safely. It’s nighttime, shes driving by herself and she sees the abandoned pavilion which instantly sparks her interest. But when she reverts her gaze back to the road she sees directly in front of her a vision of the pale faced stranger who’s sinister presence startles her, and for a moment she veers off the road. Managing to gain back control of the car she makes it onto the road and continues driving til she gets to the gas station.

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The only music Mary can get on the car radio is organ music…

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Once there, she is haunted by either strange hallucinations or actual supernatural contact of a sinister man (Herk Harvey) with a macabre pale dead face in a off the rack suit and then a tuxedo.
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The monochromatic frames work to intensify the look of the ‘Man’ who literally appears to be part of the seducing void & darkness moving around Mary.
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Mary meets her new landlady at the boarding house where she’s taken a room, near the church where she’ll be the organist.
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The minister tells her that the congregation would be interested in meeting their new organist but she coldly replies to him. If they say I’m a fine organist that should be enough”
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“We have an organist capable of stirring the soul” sure but consider the fact that she’s a ‘lost’ soul herself!

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She makes it to her new rooming house, getting ready for bed she catches another glimpse of the ‘Man’ outside her bedroom window. In the morning , she goes to her new job at the church. The minister (Art Ellison) tells her that he’d like the congregation to meet her as she’s the new organist and part of the community now. Yet, odd bewildered Mary isn’t interested in this ceremonious display, he imparts a fatherly cliché to her “You can’t live in isolation from the human race.”

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the ‘Man’ appears at the church looking strangely at the stain glass panel, what is he thinking? it’s an interesting juxtaposition of the image of a pious figure being gazed at by the figure of ‘death’

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Mary feels cut off from the world and is believed to be crazy by the people she encounters. She also becomes drawn to a decaying old amusement park where the ‘Man’ who visits her hallucinations, escorts her into a waltz of the dead in the empty ballroom. Meantime, the police are back at the scene of the accident pulling up the wreckage of the car from the river. Mary is pursued by the sleazy roomer at the boarding house, John Linden who’s got plans on getting Mary in the sack!

From CRITERION The Liner notes by Bruce Kawin–there are fun references to other movie titles like “Call it Orpheus meets An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge–organ

there are similarities.. After the accident she plays the church organ without any religious conviction and has a date without desire, She is accused of having no soul.
She feels cut off and doesn’t know why and to find out the reason is to be destroyed : To synchronize with and , quite literally meet her fate.

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Mary can see Saltair Pavilion from her bedroom window

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The film is filled with signals and omens that forewarn that something has shifted in Mary’s life either through her dreams or her new reality. John Clifford’s script seems inspired by the old expressionist fantasy dramas and Harvey’s direction allows the atmosphere to embrace a weird style, that could easily have been a silent film. Carnival of Souls depends much on visual cues, and a quirky narrative filled with curiosity, honesty and repressed primal fear.

Once Mary walks away from the commotion of the accident she drives to a local garage for assistance. She sees the ‘Man’ and flees on foot. (This is very reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode called The Hitchhiker starring Inger Stevens being stalked by what looks like a hobo, but just might be death himself trying to take her back with him.)

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Inger Stevens is Nan Adams in The Hitch-Hiker episode of Rod Serling’s brilliant anthology sci-fi/fantasy show The Twilight Zone The Hitch-Hiker aired on Jan. 22 1960.

On Mary’s day off she goes shopping, and in the midst of a retail transaction she becomes disconnected from her surroundings. First people refuse to acknowledge her as if she’s not there. (great idea for a film effect right M Night Shyamalan? yeah as I was saying) Then Mary begins to lose her sense of hearing. Nothing seems to make noise, there isn’t a sound to be heard.

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While shopping in the department store, the people around Mary act as if she isn’t there. As if she were a ghost… 

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why can't I hear anything
“why can’t I hear anything?”

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Mary becomes hysterical when she thinks the older gentleman at the water fountain is the ‘Man’ Dr Samuel’s tells her she’s hysterical and that she should control herself…

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She flees to the tranquility of the city park and leaves the urban stresses behind her, and suddenly her senses start coming back to her. Once she lays her hands on a tree trunk the natural world let’s her in again. She can hear bird’s chirping and becomes connected to reality again. But this is only shortly lived as it lasts briefly before, she thinks she sees the ‘Man’ standing by the a water fountain. Mary becomes hysterical. Dr. Samuel’s comes to her aide, tells her she’s hysterical and to control herself. He takes her to his office across the street.

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Mary- “It was more than just not being able to hear anything, or make contact with anyone. It was as though, as though for a time I didn’t exist. As though I had no place in the world. No part of the life around me.” Dr. Samuels-“And then you saw this, this man?” He tells her that perhaps the Man represents a ‘guilt’ feeling. She tells him that it’s ridiculous. Mary  “Well I know one thing. If my imagination is playing tricks on me, I’m gonna put a stop to it!” He tells her she’s strong willed. She tells him that she’s survived if that’s what he means. He tells her that the Pavilion holds some kind of meaning to her. She’s going out there alone and prove that it’s just her imagination.

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She tells him she has no interest in being with other people. She also figures that her unease is somehow connected to the abandoned Carnival/Pavilion. So fixated on it is she, that she feels compelled to return there and try to exorcise these recent terrors. While visiting it during daylight she interprets it as a harmless place. But… she is unaware of the ‘Man’ lying beneath the surface of the water… waiting for her.

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cast the devil out

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Mary is cast under the spell of the lurking dead and the strange draw to the abandoned & desolate Saltair

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Profane

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“Profane… sacrilege What are you playing in this church. Have you no respect Do you feel no reverence? Well I feel sorry for you… and your lack of soul. This organ the music of this church these things have meaning and significance to us. I assumed they did to you. (to Mary it was just a job) But without this awareness I’m afraid you cannot be our organist. In conscious I must ask you to resign”
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At Church Mary is compelled to play the organ like a feverish madwoman, beyond the control of her hands, she hits the keys and creates dark progressions. Her music becomes malevolent on the pipe organ (Much like Siohban McKenna’s Emmy in Daughter of Darkness 1948) As Mary strokes the keys inflamed, overcome and aroused by the inexplicable desire, she sees images of the ‘Man’ and the others, the dead ensemble rising from the water, then waltzing at the Pavilion, moving in a quick pace, toward her. The jump cuts are very effective, as if they create the illusion of the dead ones hurling themselves at her. The minister interrupts Mary’s day-mare he cries ‘Sacrilege’ and he dismisses her from her post at the church.

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CRITERION liner notes: All the music with the exception of the jukebox is the organ.

“The organ is the music of Mary’s mind and of the world in which she finds herself. the world as a gain the way things are. It may be that she imagines her story in her own terms. With a soundtrack as cold as she is said to be, or that she ‘really’ lives for awhile in a world where the dead intrude. The underscoring and the underwater undead make it likely that what we see and hear is her windscreen. But the horror film can have it both ways.”

“An alternate world and an imagined one. Aside from the music the most artistically daring element of this film-one that defies a central convention of the horror genre -is its flight from romanticism , it’s concentration not on a foaming monster or on the hammering bosom of a Hammer heroine, but on a cold fish. If she is a magnet for the Gothic , there is nothing exciting or sexy about it. The thrills of this carnival are cold ones…. bits of death.”

The ‘Man’ continues to pursue Mary, she sees him everywhere, even while she’s playing the organ. The minister shows Mary around town and she asks him to accompany her to the Pavilion. Strange too, Mary can see it from her bedroom window.

When she returns to the rooming house Mary has to rebuff the seedy lecherous John Linden (Sidney Berger) who keeps trying to insinuate himself into Mary’s apartment. She also sees the ‘Man’ again.

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Mary is fixated on the Pavilion in the way Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) is fixated on Hill House. The Pavilion has become a catalyst, a place of connection to Mary who til now has been literally disconnected from the living world. The old rusted machinery of the ballroom, and the rusted collapsing spiral staircase reveal the old is enticing both women who don’t belong in this world that is new and young and vibrant. Both Eleanor and Mary Henry exist in a dust filled space of detachment and estrangement.

Mary accepts a date with her sleazy predatory neighbor Lindon, but refuses to drink, dance or be held close. They go back to her room, she sees John’s face become the ‘Man’s’ reflection in the mirror. The next morning she checks out of the rooming house, determined to leave this town behind. She is detained by car trouble. Dropping off the car at the gas station even proves to be an ominous affair.

at the garage

at the garage under the lift

at the garage on the lift

at the garage the man

Having been fired, wanting to leave town, the car is the garage, she goes to the bus depot, but can’t buy a ticket because no one hears or sees her. She tries to get onto the bus, the dead ensemble are inside laughing approaching her She tries to get on the train, they close the gate on her. she runs, there is a motorcycle cop, but he pulls away, as does the taxi cab that doesn’t see her…she runs the organ and the heels of her shoes, in a frenzy, her inner monologue why can’t they hear me, why can’t I hear anything.

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Trying to buy a bus ticket people walk right over her, the teller doesn’t acknowledge her. She is invisible to the world.
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She tries to get onto the train. they close the gait in her face. She is not there…
She screams "why can't anybody hear me!!!
Mary screams… “Why can’t anybody hear me!!!”

She attempts to buy a bus ticket, and becomes separated from the world again, so she attempts to just get on the bus. Jumping through the open door of the idling bus, she is confronted by the passengers, the dead ensemble.

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She meets with Doctor Samuels again in his office. He sits and listens with his back to her, she tells him “I don’t belong in the world” As the psychiatrist turns to answer her, it is revealed to be the ‘Man’ sitting in the chair. Mary screams… and wakes up in the garage. For a moment Mary is allowed to acknowledge the experience as a dream.

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Mary to Doctor Samuel’s chair back -“You’ve got to tell me what to do!”

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Mary drives away from town, directly to the Pavilion. The outside lights are illuminating the dead ensemble dancing. Mary sees herself as one of them. She’s dancing with the ‘Man’, caught in his embrace. The quick cuts create a frenetic dizzying night torment. The dead ensemble begin to chase Mary onto the sand by the beach. Then the scene changes to the austere sky and bleached out white of daylight.

There she is haunted by strange visions involving the pasty-faced wraith who continues to be a menacing force. Mary  is disconnected from the natural world, and the people around her experience her as odd perhaps even crazy. Even the most ordinary and mundane places like church, retail shops, parks, train stations and doctor’s offices are not safe as the pale-faced wraith that shadows her seems to be everywhere.

It is this feeling of isolation & being alienated by the world that draws Mary to the eerie abandoned Pavilion. At the Pavilion she is escorted by the ‘Man’ to come join the dance with the ‘pale-faced pushing up daisy’s gang’ in the empty ballroom.

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the end

The quick cuts of the ‘Man’ are appropriately horrifying because of the lack of grey tones, he appears with the ghastly pasty white face in dark contrast to his evening wear and the dark corners in which he appears to be occupying.

The power in the Pavilion comes on and the festive lights come up in the ballroom -the dead ensemble in their evening attire are waltzing. She see herself as one of them, she is dancing with the ‘Man’- she screams and runs but they chase her down to the beach. Now it’s daytime, the cold light of day at the Pavilion-slipping in and out of a dream, reality, darkness & light or belonging of terror.

We see the police, the minister of the church and the locals are investigating Mary’s disappearance. Mary’s car is still at the Pavilion. There are many sets of footprints leading down toward the beach and then… they end abruptly.

Is she trapped between the world of the dead or the world of the living? Mary Henry avoids death throughout the film as she is stalked and seduced by the pale-faced ‘Man’ with the mocking gaze and the ‘Lifeless Mob’, the ‘Dead Ensemble’ but it might just be a tryst she’ll have to show up for eventually…

Just to recap- The opening prelude shows us Mary rising from the cold waters of the river, her hair splattered with mud, she staggers onto the river bank passing the rescue party. She moves awkwardly as she emerges. It is perhaps the most powerful scene in Carnival of Souls, as Mary Henry indifferent toward ‘rescue’ or ‘deliverance.’ The extraneous attempt are mocked by the reality that Mary doesn’t seek salvation, and soon will embark on a nightmare journey trying to find her way out of purgatory. She is lured to the deserted Pavilion, trying to exorcise the nightmarish wraiths that stalk her even in the stark light of day.

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The film fell into obscurity for a while because of a bad deal struck with the corrupt Hertz-Lion Company to distribute the film in small theaters , who either didn’t understand or didn’t care to embrace Harvey/Clifford’s vision for the film. So Hertz Lion packaged it as a B-Movie venues exclusively, and playing at drive ins in the Southeastern U.S, not allowing it’s intended urban city Indie arty audience to see it. The Company also kept the profits then went out of business in 1964. Leaving Harvey and Clifford unpaid, the film lab who struck the release print unpaid as well. Carnival of Souls was edited for release to be used as double billing. The film was butchered by Hertz Lion, sacrificing mood and the script’s intelligibility for the sake of a shorter print, which would be easier to distribute.

Now you may suppose that the film’s continuity was sacrificed by this, yet Carnival of Souls does not seem to suffer from lack of atmosphere, unique camera work or said continuity, the film still deserves the art-house label as Herk Harvey and John Clifford originally intended.

Even after  ‘it languished in obscurity’ due to the dubious distribution strategy by the corrupt Hertz Lion Company and despite all the cuts and edits from the original film, Carnival of Souls has gained a tremendous cult following,

It’s one of my favorite classical horror films of the 60s! With many of us discovering this horror gem on late nite television with it’s spooky programming like Chiller Theater, Creature Feature and Night Fright on WOR Channel 9 in New York… all of which I was nourished on as a really young horror fan in the 60s & 70s.

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Candace Hilligoss was frustrated with Herk Harvey because he gave her NO motivation for her character, little to no explanation for Mary’s actions. Coming from the method school of acting, this created a conflict with her role, yet the blank stare and the disconnection to the narrative inadvertently or unconsciously created the no- affect heroine that propelled Mary even further into a netherworld caught between reality and unreality. Sound and silence. Visibility and imperceptibility. Mary Henry walks through the film perplexed and alienated.

Hilligoss would appear in one more horror picture from the 60s Corpse of the Living Dead (1964) a gruesome horror whodunit with a heavy dose of cynicism and sadism, Del Tenney style.

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Carnival of Souls has a visual narrative that is somewhat like a dark poem, or a funeral dance.

I’ve read an interesting essay that touches on a corollary between Carnival of Souls and Robert Wise’s 1963 ghost story The Haunting based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House. From Hidden Horror the chapter on Carnival of Souls by Prof. Shelly Jarenski- They make a few interesting comparisons. Such as the prelude… “… And we who walk here… walk alone.” in my malleable childhood mind, both the prelude and the coda stayed with me like a creepy lullaby or maudlin soliloquy. Jarenski says “The film’s core themes are encapsulated in that line uttered by the misfit heroine Eleanor Lance.”

Jarenski also mentions that ‘Eleanor seemed happiest becoming a ghost, belonging to the house.’

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the haunting

Words like ‘we’ or ‘walking’ does create an ominous ambiguity. That Eleanor will either join the collection of lost souls in Hill House or be doomed to walk alone for all eternity in ‘isolation and despair.’

Jarenski asserts that Carnival of Souls can be understood as a corollary to the more ceremonious and celebrated The Haunting because “It portrays what being part of the community of the dead, while simultaneously feeling utterly alone, looks like.”

Source From: More Things Than are Dreamt of- they point out the idea that The Haunting is much more than just a ghost story. As Shirley Jackson wrote in her novel, “During the whole underside of her life, ever since her first memory Eleanor had been waiting for something…”

Because of the key player Eleanor Lance not being a professional para-psychologist or a willing believer, what surfaces during the story’s reveal is that we are witnesses not just to a haunting, but a lonely woman, a disillusioned spinster, most likely a virgin who is yearning for release.

Mary Henry is also an isolated outcast, drawn to something possibly nefarious, but it’s something better than being a nothing, or being invisible around regular people… “I have no desire for the close company of other people.”

Mary Henry goes through portends and psychic spells that tamper with her senses, spells that are jarring and utterly frightening. The idea of abject ‘horror’ as with The Haunting (1963) or Daughter of Darkness (1948) doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural force behind the fear that is awakened. The apprehension of evil, the supernatural or the fine line between life and death are made a disturbing odyssey as we aren’t sure what is happening to Mary or us. The disturbing tone as Jarensky puts it, is ‘atmospheric oddness.’ The oddness that is familiar in Robert Wise’s The Haunting as Hill House’s angles were all ‘odd’ leaving one to feel that there is one big distortion as a whole. Mary Henry has been shifted off the mortal plain, journeying through a dizzying quagmire of nocturnal terrors or daytime sensory ordeals and alienation from the world.

Eleanor Lance

I’ve made my own connection with another stunning picture that deals with the fine line between death and life, reality and unreality. I’m talking about Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder (1990) where the hero also takes a grotesque and frighteningly nightmarish journey from life… through death…

So is it a ‘death journey’, a collective hallucination, or is Mary Henry going mad?

From the booklet notes of CRITERION by Bruce Kawin

“In Carnival of Souls (1962) one place is allowed to be blatantly creepy: The Amusement park where ghosts rest under the water and rise to dance. The rest of the world appears both normal and somehow wrong and part of what is wrong about it -and within stand encompassing it- it the liminal protagonist , Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) For she has gone wrong , and in the world with her. It may be her subjective world, as in the Cocteau and Bergman films that producer -director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford admired, but it is ours as long as we are in the theater, and it look too much like the real world outside the theater for comfort.

Mary Henry could also be said to be the archetypal “alienated heroine’, ‘the misplaced heroine’ or as Jarenski calls it ‘the misfit heroine’ who also feels like she lives on the fringes of society, with no place she truly belongs.

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Now this is where Mary Henry and her queer mannerism, church organ playing that becomes almost diabolically fevered, and the peculiar magnetism to either attract men or repel them still puts me in mind of director Lance Comfort’s Daughter of Darkness (1948) concerning the odd Irish lass Emily ‘Emmy’ Beaudine (Siohban MacKenna) Emmy too, was the church organist, who aroused every man in the county with a supernatural allure, yet she repelled dogs, horses and the womenfolk. And, when a man did want to go further she would scratch their eyes out or murder them in a fevered rage. Emmy is a wild thing, driven out of town for being one of the devil’s own. When Emmy played the organ, she became entranced not unlike Mary Henry, often she would lose herself in long drawn out musical conflagration to darkness. But was it supernatural or a monstrous feminine morality play about women’s primacy.

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Both women, provocative and strange possess a power to attract and repel, with Emmy’s boxer and Mary’s neighbor Linden. Mary plays the organ with a “pragmatic irreverence.” When the minister admonishes her, calling it ‘sacrilege’ she leaves her town “I am never coming back!

The parishioners talk behind her back, “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.

But even as Mary is seen as renegade, wicked or immoral she still doesn’t seem comfortable in her own skin, not as much as the people on the periphery of her world are. Those who inhabit the tenuous wall between life & death.

When Mary states that she feels separate from other people, we are dropped into a scene where the outside world that invades and surrounds her, loses all it’s sound. It is a marker to how she is cut off from the world.

Julia Kristeva the scholar who expanded brilliantly on Freud’s postulations on the sub-conscious & fear in his The Uncanny describes something that is pervasive through Carnival of Souls. The film takes the mundane, the familiar and these familiar points of reference, department stores, city parks, train stations and brightly sunlit beaches, suddenly become ‘out of place’ This is what happens to Mary Henry as she bares witness to the manifestation of the uncanny. She experiences a ‘profound psychological disturbance’ that is virtually impossible to describe.

As Jarensky says, “everything seems familiar to her, and yet she feels an inexplicable sense of separateness.”

With each time the sinister and other-worldly ‘Man’ shows himself to Mary, the film begins to spiral into a nightmarish hazy Kaleidoscope of eerie unreality. It not only seems like an assault on Mary, it makes us really uncomfortable as well, causing us anxiety.

Carnival of Souls has an enduring eerie charm that has sustained it’s cult status for years. Part of what works so well for this unique film is the lack of direction Hilligoss got from Herk Harvey leaving her as authentically lost as her character Mary Henry wandering through a netherworld too frightening to navigate. Low budget, filled with happy accidents that when viewed in retrospect bares the look of an art-house horror though unintentional the low grade quality creates a haunting appeal….

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Continue reading “Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling”

Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
the Naked kiss
Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
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Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

Glen or Glenda
Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

The Killing of Sister George
Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

weird-noir
There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
mimi3
Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
Repulsion
Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”