The Changeling (1980) “How did you die, Joseph…? Did you die in this house…? Why do you remain…?”

The Changeling 1980 wheelchairs are scary

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Here’s a blogathon that will enlighten you about many truly wonderful artists, actors, & filmmakers who proudly hail from the Great White North country of Canada! Kristina of Speakeasy  and Ruth of Silver Screenings are paying tribute to Canada… So this New Yorker is doing her part to join in with a classic ghost story that will give you the ‘pip and the whim whams!’ After all even Martin Scorsese thinks this film is one of the 11 scariest films he’s ever known!

I’m always grateful when I’m asked to join in on one of these marvelous celebrations, and my gratitude continues, so without further ado…

Door Opens Changeling

O Canada & The Changeling — IMDb trivia tid bits- The house seen in the movie in real life doesn’t and never actually did exist. The film-makers could not find a suitable mansion to use for the film so at a cost of around $200,000, the production had a Victorian gothic mansion facade attached to the front of a much more modern dwelling in a Vancouver street. This construction was used for the filming of all the exteriors of the movie’s Carmichael Mansion. The interiors of the haunted house were an elaborate group of interconnecting sets built inside a film studio in Vancouver.

The name of the history group was the Seattle Historical Preservation Society. The name of the campus where Dr. John Russell ( George C. Scott ) taught music was the University of Seattle though interiors set there were filmed at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.

Though predominantly filmed in Canada, the picture was set in Seattle, USA where establishing shots were filmed. These included the Rainier Tower, the SeaTac Airport, the University of Washington’s Red Square, and the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge. Some location filming was shot in New York. Most of the movie was filmed in Vancouver and its environs in British Columbia with Victoria in the same Canadian province also used. Interiors set at the university were shot in Toronto in Canada’s province of Ontario.

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THE CHANGELING (1980)

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Minnie Huxley: “That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”

The Changeling was produced by Lew Grade who tried to start up his own production company that never quite made it, however during this time he was responsible releasing Boys From Brazil 1978 and On Golden Pond 1981 and our featured ghost story The Changeling. The story is by Russell Hunter and the screenplay was written by William Gray and Diana Maddox. Directed by Peter Medak (The Ruling Class 1972, The Krays 1990, Romeo is Bleeding 1993)

Director of Photography John Coquillon (The Impersonator 1961 The Conqueror Worm 1968 Cry of the Banshee 1970, Straw Dogs 1971, Cross of Iron 1977, Absolution 1978, The Osterman Weekend 1983) Coquillon has a magical touch of creating environments that seemed closed in whilst surrounded by the a vast natural world. Because the players are about to implode from too much twisted pathology & secret sin eating, his camera work translates a tense universe on screen so well, that it elevates the narrative to a more uncomfortable level.

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Rick Wilkins is credited for the film’s stunningly haunting score, but that effectively poignant yet eerie music box theme was composed by Howard Blake as part of a work called Lifecycle which is a collection of 24 piano pieces using only 24 keys.

The film stars George C. Scott as John Russell as a tragic figure of loss, Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman, Melvyn Douglas as Senator Carmichael, Jean Marsh as Joanna Russell, Barry Morse as the Parapsychologist, John Colicos as Captain DeWitt, Madeleine Sherwood as Claire’s mother, and Ruth Springford as the Historical Society’s creepy secretive Minnie Huxley.

The Changeling (1980) is one of those rare masterpieces that fall into the cerebral tale of otherworldly & supernatural torments that are defined as ‘intimate drawing room’ ghost stories. Much like The Uninvited (1944), Dead of Night (1945), The Innocents (1961), The Haunting (1963), Ghost Story (1981), Lady in White (1988),  and The Others (2001) 

Abject sadness

The Changeling is a SUPERIOR ghost story permeated with a moody angst, atmosphere and some of the most chilling moments in classical haunting/ horror cinema. It is said that the movie is based on actual events that took place at a mansion called the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion not in Canada but in Denver Colorado. Writer Russell Hunter claims he witnessed these events while living in the house during the 1960s. IMDb trivia tells us that ‘The Chessman Park neighborhood in the movie is a reference to Cheesman Park in Denver, where the original haunting transpired.’

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I saw The Changeling upon it’s theatrical release in 1980 and believe me when I say that those ‘frightening’ jarring moments are as effective as they were 36 years ago, they can still cause that jump out of your seat reflex!. The house used in The Changeling is as imposing and chills inspiring on it’s own. “The house was totally created by set designers and you won’t forget its eerie corridors, stairway, and dark rooms.” -John Stanley from Creature Features Movie Guide. As Stanley figures, this memorable ghost story operates on 3 though I count 4 different levels.

1) as a pure ghost story 2) as the journey of John Russell’s struggle with loss 3) as a morality tale about good vs evil. And 4) a tale of murder, power and greed.

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George C Scott plays John Russell a concert pianist/ music professor is haunted by the vision of witnessing both his wife (Jean Marsh in a tiny flashback role before she is killed) an daughter die in a freak car accident. The film opens with this tragic event, in order to set the pace for Russell’s unbounded grief and inconsolable trauma. Russell decides to pack up the Manhattan apartment, including little Kathy’s red rubber ball and moves to Seattle (Canada) where he has taken a new teaching job. The atmosphere is grim and rainy, cold and alienated as we understand how heartbroken John Russell is. Waking in the middle of the night sobbing, he cannot fathom, living in this world without his beautiful wife and daughter. John needs a large house that is removed from everything so that he may compose without being bothered by neighbors. The realtor Clair Norman (Trish Van Devere- Scott’s wife at the time. This would be their 8th film together) who is an agent for the Historical Preservation Society shows him the old Chessman Park House which has been unoccupied for twelve years.

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Trish Van Devere appeared in her own ghost story, the more toned down surreal The Hearse (1980)
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Van Devere in outre creepy The Hearse 1980

John is curious about the reasons behind the house being empty for so long, but Claire being fairly new to the society can’t give him an answer, except that the society hasn’t tried to find a new tenant for the house. Curiouser and curiouser. She also explains that there had once been plans to renovate the house and turn it into a museum. She thinks the house would be a perfect place for John to compose because of it’s sizable music room. So John moves in and begins teaching at the university, his classes become a big hit, with students accepting the SRO conditions.

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John Russell: “It’s my understanding… that there are, uh… twenty-three students registered… for this series of lectures on advanced musical form. Now, we all know it’s not raining outside, and unless there’s a fire in some other part of the building that we don’t know about, there’s an awful lot of people here with nothing better to do.”

As John gets settled in, he is invited to a cocktail party/fund raiser for the Historical Society where he sees Claire again, also meeting Mrs. Norman her mother played by Madeleine Sherwood. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas) who is on the board and one of the Historical Society’s biggest donors is making a speech…

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At six a.am. Russell is aroused from bed by a loud pounding noise echoing through the house, reminiscent of the sonic assault that Clair Bloom and Julie Harris experienced in The Haunting 1963. It is one of the first moments that clue us in that something is wrong with the house. John assumes it’s the old pipes and so forgets about the incident.

John has a quartet of students over to work on a chamber piece. After they leave, he hears what sounds like dripping water, or someone taking a bath. The kitchen sink tap is running, so he shuts it off, but he can still hear running water from somewhere in the house. He follows the noise up to the 3rd floor. In a truly frightening moment. In the bathroom he sees a tub filled with water and the faucet still running. As he shuts off the water, he sees for a brief second the face of a little boy peering up at him from under the water… It is still one of THE most frightening scenes that I can recall.

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John sits at the piano working on a beautifully simple melody that he is recording on his reel to reel tape recorder. One of the keys is sticking, and with John not being able to find the rest of his new melody yet, stops playing.

The handyman Mr. Tuttle (C.M. Gamble) comes in to tell John that he’s got a replacement water heater for the one that’s been banging on the walls with cannon balls, John leaves the piano and sees to the job. the lone key that would not depress while John was playing intones as if an unseen finger has pressed it. This eerie moment is the second cue that John is not alone in the house

Claire comments while John is listening back to his composition that it sounds like a lullaby. She also finds the little rubber ball that was Kathy’s. A token of her John chooses to keep as a reminder of his little girl. Claire realizes that this has hit him hard, and so invites him to come horseback riding with her since it’s a lovely day.

John has flashback nightmares of the day his wife and daughter were killed. He wakes up sobbing. But what is peculiar that it is once again at 6am and the eerie pounding is reverberating through the house once more. Mr. Tuttle is once again called in to look the boiler over again, it’s most likely trapped air in the pipes. Tuttle tells John, “A furnace is like anything else. It’s got habits.It’s an old house. It makes noises.”

John is now drawn into the mystery of the house, the noises and the vision of the little boy. He visits the Historical Society in order to find out if there have been accounts of ghostly sightings with previous owners. Clair chalks up John’s anxiety to the trauma he’s been through losing his family believing it to be all in his head. But Miss Huxley (Ruth Springford) one of the eldest Society members pulls John to the side and lays it on the line. He should never have been allowed to rent that house, and that Claire had business circumventing the Society’s rules. “That house is not fit to live in. No one has been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people. “ Huxley just confirms John’s suspicions that there has been something tragic connected to the house and it is indeed haunted.

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CapturFiles_44 the door opens by itself
While John pushes all his weight against the door, it will not budge. Once he steps back, the door opens with ease as if by unseen hands

There is a scene afterwards where John is leaving the Chessman Park house and a tiny stain glass window blows out from the inside leaving the shards on the ground in front of him. Something is definitely trying to get his attention and hold it. So he goes back inside back up to the third floor and opens a door that at first seems to be merely a linen closet.
But he discovers that the shelves are covering up a hidden bedroom. The ungodly pounding begins once again while John hammers at the lock until it breaks, Pushing his weight against the door, he cannot open it. Once John gives up, the door creaks open on it’s own leading into a darkness that exudes a fowl shadowy heaviness.
He walks up a decrepit cobwebbed staircase that leads to a time-forgotten dust covered attic room. There he see an old fashioned wooden wheelchair small enough to be a child’s. The wheelchair seems to embody a kind of foreboding terror. Why?

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John finds a dusty old music box. Also the red glass that burst outward onto the grounds in front is subtly shown missing from the stain glass panel from this attic’s window

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Aside from the fact that everything in this child’s attic room seems petrified, the wheelchair acts as a symbol of a child who might have suffered in that house. For whatever primal spark the chair ignites in us fear chills. John finds a child’s desk with a notebook dated January 1909, which have the initials C.S.B. There is also a music box, that when open mysteriously plays the exact melody John has been wrestling with at the piano. Like an old tune he’s heard before but can’t remember the rest of the notes. He has been directed to this room, by the pounding, the window pane shattering, the vision of the little boy in the bathtub, and from the beginning the melody that underscores Johns consciousness. All trying to lead him to a dark secret that needs to get out and be exposed to the light of day.

John plays the music box lullaby for Claire swearing he had never heard the melody before in his life then he proceeds to show her his reel to reel recording of the song he thought he was composing. The two are identical… it is a poignantly creepy moment, as it somehow binds John to the house in a way that feels precious and imminent- showing how the house is influencing him in much the way certain events controlled Eleanor (Julie Harris) in The Haunting.

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Claire tells John “I agree it’s a startling coincidence” John swears he’s never heard that melody before

While the co-incidence isn’t necessarily frightening…  All the while it gives me the ‘pip and the whim whams’ ( heard David McCallum use that line in an episode of Marcus Welby. Been waiting to find a place to use it…)

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John meets with a Parapsychologist at the University played by the wonderful Barry Morse

Claire has researched the house back to 1920 but can find no record of anything significant happening that would make sense of the experiences John is having. He begins to realize that the house isn’t trying to drive people out, more importantly something or someone it is trying to reach out for help.

John shows Claire the attic room. Then the two go to the Historical Society to look up any records of the immense yet lonely house. They find out that the last people who occupied the house left there after only two years. back in 1967. That’s when the Society took control of the old Chessman Park House with a grant bestowed by the Carmichael Foundation representing Senator Carmichael ( Melvyn Douglas) Oddly, there are no files for the house prior to 1920, they are missing! So John and Claire ask Miss Huxley about the records of who lived there around 1909. She tells them that a man named Bernard lived there with his son and daughter but sold the house a year later after a terrible tragedy.

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Clara's grave

Once John and Claire go through library newspaper records they find a story about  a Dr. Walter Bernard, whose seven year old daughter Cora died from injuries sustained by being hit by a coal cart. Could the initials C.S.B. stand for Cora Bernard? John and Claire then go to the family cemetery to visit the graves of Cora, her brother and parents. John wonders if Cora is reaching out to him, because he lost his own daughter and she sees him as a kindred spirit. Claire encourages John to leave the house no matter what the reason. That his suffering is linked to the house now.

John reminisces about his lost wife and daughter by looking at old photographs. Suddenly the pounding begins again. When he goes to investigate, he see’s Kathy’s little red rubber ball, bouncing down the long staircase, thump thump thump thump. This moment is yet again, one of THE most frighteningly memorable scenes in classical horror history. On the outward level because it is inexplicable, yet it is also heart breaking because it tears at the wound John is already bleeding from about losing his little girl. Terrifying and sad is a potent combination and makes for a superior ghost story.

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John takes the little ball and drives to a near by bridge and throws the tiny object into the water below. But… when he returns home, the little red ball which is now wet from the river, bouncing down the long staircase yet again!!! The scene just amplifies the shock from the prior scene and does so in a way that isn’t cliché

The wonderful character actor Barry Morse plays a parapsychologist form the university who sets up a séance with mediums Leah and Albert Harmon (Helen Burns & Eric Christmas) Once at the house they already sense a presence there, which leads Leah who is psychic up toward the creepy attic room.

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CapturFiles_57 “You’ve suffered a cruel loss John Russell. you’ve lost a wife and child. The presence in this house is reaching out to you through that loss"
“You’ve suffered a cruel loss John Russell. you’ve lost a wife and child. The presence in this house is reaching out to you through that loss.”

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They begin to hold the séance John, Claire and her mother and the Harmons. Leah Harmon begins to ask questions of the spirits. She begins doing automatic writing by scribbling on a piece of paper, hoping that messages will appear through the written scrawlings. “The spirit is that of a child not at peace.”
But it is not Clara who had been killed by the coal cart. It is that of a young boy named Joseph. who died in that house and is begging John to help him. Leah keeps repeating the question, “Did you die in this house? Did you die in this house, how did you die?

Leah is in a deep trance, asking the little boy how he died with no audible answer. The camera swings around the house leading from the third floor down the staircase following the invisible presence as it moves toward the gathering. It’s an effective use of camerawork as what is unseen to us is made quite palpable. A glass and a few other trigger objects such as the tin tube that are on the table, fly into the air across the room and shatters to pieces.

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Once everyone leaves, John listens back to his reel to reel tape recording of the séance and begins to hear the faintest voice of a child answering Leah’s questions. Words are imprinted on tape like -‘ranch’ ’Sacred heart”  ‘well’ ‘Can’t walk’ and “medal.” John psychically connects with past events, he sees the vision of the boy and how he came to an end in the house. A little boy is being drowned in his bathtub by his father in that attic room. The music box is playing the song until he succumbs and the box is turned over. The source of the pounding is now represented by the boy’s little fists pounding against the tub as he struggles against drowning. The last words John hears on the tape recording is “My name is Joseph Carmichael.”

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Claire listens to the tape and cries. She recognizes Sacred Heart as an Orphanage that used to operate in the area. Claire is frozen in terror, as she looks upstairs. When John goes to look, we see the child’s wheelchair at the top of the stairs. Yet another chilling moment well paced and placed.

The secretive and nefarious Miss Huxley fills Senator Carmichael in on John and Claire’s nosing around the house’s past. He’s afraid they will find out that he was born in the old Chessman Park house in 1900, his mother dying during child birth.

There is a great mystery, tragedy and evil deeds surrounding the Senator, the little ghost child Joseph. If I give away too much of it, it would spoil the story and ultimately the climax.

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LIttle Girl:Boy in the well

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Without giving away too much, another frightening sub-plot is when John and Claire track down the ranch house belonging to a Mrs Grey (Frances Hyland) whose daughter had frightening visions that same night as the séance.
She dreamt of an impish boy, almost wicked in his appearance as he tried to reach up through the floor boards and staring at her.

Mrs. Grey worried about her daughter Linda’s night terrors. She starts sleeping in her mother’s room, so she allows John and Claire to dig up the bedroom floor, which sits atop an old well. Until a few nights later, Linda in a somnambulist’s state wanders into her bedroom and sees the image of the little boy floating under the water staring at her. The Changeling continues to employ moments that are starkly frightening. John digs up the floor down to the bottom of the well, where he not only finds a little boy’s medal that comes up from the dirt like a flower shoot popping out of the mud. John also finds the bones of a child.

John and Claire call the police but only give them limited information of how they knew to look under the floorboards of Mrs. Grey’s house, and they have no suspicions as to the identity of the skeleton.

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John tries to talk to Senator Carmichael on his private jet, the police take him away thinking he is a crazy protester.
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Senator Carmichael-Melvyn Douglas is more than a bit worried
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Actor John Colicos plays police Captain DeWitt who is a personal friend to Senator Carmichael, and impresses upon John to leave the Senator alone… or else!

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John Colicos plays Captain DeWitt a friend of Senator Carmichael and who is dauntless in his investigation to get to the truth behind John and Claire’s meddling and what the connection between the skeleton in the well, an old medal and Senator Carmichael who thinks they are trying to blackmail him.

I’ll leave the rest of this phenomenal ghost story/murder mystery for those who haven’t seen it yet. But perhaps I’ll add just this last bit of shock treatment to entice those who aren’t faint of heart…

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HIDDEN HORROR-
written by Don Sumner for the section on The Changeling (1980) in Hidden Horror edited by Aaron Christensen and William Lustig.

“It is interesting that The Changeling should be a Hidden Horror rather than a recognized household classic. The film swept the Canadian Genie Awards, winning Best Picture, Actor, Actress and several technical awards, and returned fair U.S. box office receipts $12 million against it’s approximately $600K CAN production budget. Still, it under-performed when compared to other 1970s Canadian horror efforts and remains lesser known. than its brethren to this day… For example, that same year’s Prom Night had the benefit of rising scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis while David Cronenberg’s Scanners featured a game-changing head explosion. “

As far as I’m concerned The Changeling will forever remain one of the most captivating cinematic ghost stories that has retained it’s haunting quality after all these years.

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This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying ‘It’s been a ball’

 

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:

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  • “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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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?”

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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… 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.

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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…
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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”

MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!

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Horror cinema was at it’s spooky peak in the 1930s~ the era gave birth to some of the most iconic figures of the genre as well as highlighted some of the most beautiful & beloved heroines to ever light up the scream, oops I mean screen!!!!

We all love the corrupted, diabolical, fiendish and menacing men of the 30s who dominated the horror screen- the spectres of evil, the anti-heroes who put those heroines in harms way, women in peril, –Boris, & Bela, Chaney and March… From Frankenstein, to Dracula, from The Black Cat (1934), or wicked Wax Museums to that fella who kept changing his mind…Jekyll or was it Hyde? From the Mummy to that guy you could see right through, thank you Mr. Rains!

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Gloria Stuart The Invisible Man

Last year I featured Scream Queens of 40s Classic Horror! This Halloween 🎃 – I felt like paying homage to the lovely ladies of 30s Classic Horror, who squealed up a storm on those stormy dreadful nights, shadowed by sinister figures, besieged by beasts, and taunted with terror in those fabulous frisson filled fright flicks… but lest not forget that after the screaming stops, those gals show some grand gumption! And… In an era when censorship & conservative framework tried to set the stage for these dark tales, quite often what smoldered underneath the finely veiled surface was a boiling pot of sensuality and provocative suggestion that I find more appealing than most contemporary forays into Modern horror- the lost art of the classical horror genre will always remain Queen… !

Let’s drink a toast to that notion!

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The Scream Queens, Sirens & Heroines of 1930s Classic Horror are here for you to runs your eyes over! Let’s give ’em a really big hand, just not a hairy one okay! From A-Z

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Phantom in the Rue Morgue 1954

ELIZABETH ALLAN

Elizabeth Allan

A British beauty with red hair who according to Gregory Mank in his Women in Horror Films, 1930s, left England for Hollywood and an MGM contract. She is the consummate gutsy heroine, the anti-damsel Irena Borotyn In Tod Browning’s campy Mark of the Vampire (1935) co-starring with Bela Lugosi as Count Mora (His birthday is coming up on October 20th!) Lionel Atwill and the always cheeky Lionel Barrymore… Later in 1958 she would co-star with Boris Karloff in the ever-atmospheric The Haunted Strangler.

Mark of the Vampire is a moody graveyard chiller scripted by Bernard Schubert & Guy Endore (The Raven, Mad Love (1935) & The Devil Doll (1936) and the terrific noir thriller Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) with sexy Steve Cochran & one of my favs Ruth Roman!)

The film is a Tod Browning’s re-take of his silent Lon Chaney Sr. classic London After Midnight (1927).

The story goes like this: Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, left drained of his blood, Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) believes it’s the work of vampires. Lionel Atwill once again plays well as the inquiring but skeptical police Inspector Neumann.

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Irena (Elizabeth Allan) and Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) hatch an intricate plot to trap the murderers!

Once Sir Karell’s daughter Irena ( our heroine Elizabeth Allan) is assailed, left with strange bite marks on her neck, the case becomes active again. Neumann consults Professor Zelin the leading expert on Vampires. This horror whodunit, includes frightened locals who believe that Count Mora (Bela in iconic cape and saturnine mannerism) and his creepy daughter Luna  (Carroll Borland) who trails after him through crypt and foggy woods, are behind the strange going’s on. But is all what it seems?

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire
Elizabeth Allan (below center) and Carroll Borland as Luna in Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Allan and Borland
Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire (1935)

The Phantom Fiend (1932)

Directed by the ever interesting director Maurice Elvey (Mr. Wu 1919, The Sign of Four, 1923, The Clairvoyant 1935, The Man in the Mirror 1936, The Obsessed 1952) Elizabeth Allan stars as Daisy Bunting the beautiful but mesmerized by the strange yet sensual and seemingly tragic brooding figure- boarder Ivor Novello as Michel Angeloff in The Phantom Fiend! A remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film about Jack the Ripper… The Lodger (1927) starring Novello once again.

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Ivor Novello is the strange & disturbing Michel Angeloff. Elizabeth Allan is the daughter of the landlords who rent a room to this mysterious fellow who might just be a serial killer. Daisy Bunyon falls captivated by this tormented and intense young man…
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A.W. Baskcomb plays Daisy’s (Elizabeth Allan)father George Bunting and Jack Hawkins is Joe Martin the regular guy in love with Daisy
You trust me, no matter whatever I've done
Michel Angeloff (Ivor Novello) to Daisy Bunting (Elizabeth Allan) “Stay away from me… don’t ever be alone with me…{…} -You trust me, no matter whatever I’ve done?”

The Mystery of Mr. X (1934)

There is a murderer loose in London who writes the police before he strikes with a sword cane, he signs his name X. It happens that his latest crime occurs on the same night that the Drayton Diamond is stolen. Robert Montgomery as charming as ever, is Nick Revel the jewel thief responsible for the diamond heist, but he’s not a crazed murderer. The co-incidence of the two crimes have put him in a fix as he’s now unable to unload the gem until the police solve the murders.

Elizabeth Allan is the lovely Jane Frensham, Sir Christopher Marche’s (Ralph Forbes) fiancé and Police Commissioner Sir Herbert Frensham’s daughter. Sir Christopher is arrested for the X murders, and Nick and Jane band together, fall madly in love and try to figure out a way to help the police find the real killer!

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HEATHER ANGEL

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Heather Angel is a British actress who started out on stage at the Old Vic theatre but left for Hollywood and became known for the Bulldog Drummond series. While not appearing in lead roles, she did land parts in successful films such as Kitty Foyle, Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943) and Lifeboat (1944). IMDb notes -Angel tested for the part of Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939), the role was given to Olivia de Havilland.

Heather Angel possessed a sublime beauty and truly deserved to be leading lady rather than relegated to supporting roles and guilty but pleasurable B movie status.

The L.A times noted about her death in 1986 at age 77 “Fox and Universal ignored her classic training and used her in such low- budget features as “Charlie Chans Greatest Case and “Springtime for Henry.”

Her performances in Berkeley Square and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were critically acclaimed… More gruesome than the story-lines involving her roles in Edwin Drood, Hound of the Baskervillles or Lifeboat put together is the fact that she witnessed her husband, stage and film directer Robert B. Sinclair’s vicious stabbing murder by an intruder in their California home in 1970.

Heather Grace Angel was born in Oxford, England, on February 9, 1909.
Heather Angel in Berkeley Square (1933) Image courtesy Dr Macro

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932)

Heather Angel is Beryl Stapleton in this lost (found negatives and soundtracks were found and donated to the British Film Institute archives) adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holme’s thriller Originally serialised in The Strand magazine between 1901 and 1902.

In this first filmed talkie of Doyle’s more horror oriented story it calls for the great detective to investigating the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and solve the strange killing that takes place on the moors, feared that there is a supernatural force, a monstrous dog like fiend that is menacing the Baskerville family ripping the throats from it’s victims. The remaining heir Sir Henry is now threatened by the curse.

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Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

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Douglass Montgomery as Neville Landless and Heather Angel as Rosa Bud in the intensely superior rare gem The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

Mystery of Edwin Drood (played by David Manners) is a dark and nightmarish Gothic tale of mad obsession, drug addiction and heartless murder! Heather Angel plays the beautiful and kindly young student at a Victorian finishing school, Rosa Bud engaged to John Jasper’s nephew Edwin Drood. The opium chasing, choir master John Jasper (Claude Rains) becomes driven to mad fixation over Rosa, who is quite aware of his intense gaze, she becomes frightened and repulsed by him.

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The brooding & malevolent Rains frequents a bizarre opium den run by a menacing crone (Zeffie Tilbury), a creepy & outre moody whisper in the melody of this Gothic horror/suspense tale!

Angel and Hobson

Valerie Hobson plays twin sister Helena Landless, the hapless Neville’s sister. (We’ll get to one of my favorites, the exquisite Valerie Hobson in just a bit…) When Neville and Helena arrive at the school, both Edwin and he vie for Rosa’s affections. When Edwin vanishes, naturally Neville is the one suspected in his mysterious disappearance.

OLGA BACLANOVA

Olga Baclanova

Though I’ll always be distracted by Baclanova’s icy performance as the vicious Cleopatra in Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks which blew the doors off social morays and became a cultural profane cult film, Baclanova started out as a singer with the Moscow Art Theater. Appearing in several silent films, she eventually co-starred as Duchess Josiana with Conrad Veidt as the tragic Gwynplaine, in another off-beat artistic masterpiece based on the Victor Hugo story The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning produced & directed this eternally disturbing & joyful portrait of behind the scenes melodrama and at times the Gothic violence of carnival life… based on the story ‘Spurs’ by Tod Robbins. It’s also been known as Nature’s Mistress and The Monster Show.

It was essential for Browning to attain realism. He hired actual circus freaks to bring to life this quirky Grand Guignol, beautifully grotesque & macabre tale of greed, betrayal and loyalty.

Cleopatra (Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor) plan to swindle the owner of the circus Hans, (Harry Earles starring with wife Frieda as Daisy) out of his ‘small’ fortune by poisoning him on their wedding night. The close family of side show performers exact a poetic yet monstrous revenge! The film also features many memorable circus folk. Siamese conjoined twins Daisy & Violet Hilton, also saluted in American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson another incredible actress, doing a dual role) Schlitze the pinhead and more!

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Anyone riveted to the television screen to watch Jessica Lange’s mind blowing performance as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story’s: Freak Show (2014) will not only recognize her superb nod to Marlene Dietrich, but much reverence paid toward the Tod Browning’s classic and Baclanova’s cunning coldness.

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( BTW as much as I adore Frances McDormand, Lange should have walked away with the Emmy this year! I’ve rarely seen a performance that balances like a tight rope walker, the subtle choreography between gut wrenching pathos & ruthless sinister vitriol. Her rendition of Bowie’s song Life on Mars…will be a Film Score Freak feature this Halloween season! No I can’t wait… here’s a peak! it fits the mood of this post…)

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Baclanova and Earles

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“You Freaks!!!!”
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Gooba Gabba… I guess she isn’t one of us after all!

here she is as the evil Countess/duchess luring poor Gwynplain into her clutches The Man Who Laughs (1928)

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Continue reading “MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!”

Postcards From Shadowland No.13

Act of Violence
Act of Violence 1948 directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh
Chaney Hunchback
Lon Chaney in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923
Baby Jane
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962 Directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
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Bedlam 1946 directed by Mark Robson Produced by Val Lewton and starring Boris Karloff and Anna Lee
Bette Davis in Dead-Ringer
Bette Davis and Bette Davis in Dead Ringer (1964) directed by Paul Henreid and co-starring Karl Malden and Peter Lawford
Blondell and Tyrone Nightmare Alley
Joan Blondell and Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley 1947 written by Jules Furthman for the screen and directed by Edmund Goulding
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Cabin in the Sky 1943 directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Lena Horne and Ethel Waters
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Crossfire 1947 directed by Edward Dmytryk starring the Roberts- Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan
Day the Earth Stood Still
The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 directed by Robert Wise and starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe
Devil Commands
The Devil Commands 1941 directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Boris Karloff and Anne Revere written for the screen by Robert Hardy Andrews
Title: OLD DARK HOUSE, THE (1932) • Pers: STUART, GLORIA • Year: 1932 • Dir: WHALE, JAMES • Ref: OLD005AA • Credit: [ UNIVERSAL / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]
THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE (1932) GLORIA STUART and BORIS KARLOFF Dir: JAMES WHALE
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Dr JEKYLL AND MR HYDE 1931starring Frederick March & Miriam Hopkins and directed by Rouben Mamoulian
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They Live By Night starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. Directed by Nicholas Ray
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Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca 1940
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Phantom of the Opera 1925 starring Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin
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Tod Brownings Freaks 1932
Gloria Odds Against Tomorrow
Gloria Grahame Odds Against Tomorrow 1959 directed by Robert Wise
Josette Day Beauty
Josette Day in Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast 1946
Judith Anderson Rebecca
Judith Anderson in Rebecca 1940
Leigh and Thaxter Act of Violence
Janet Leigh and Phyllis Thaxter in Act of Violence 1948
Louis Calhern Marlon Brando Julius Caesar 1953
Joseph L. Mankiewitz directs Louis Calhern & Marlon Brando in  Julius Caesar 1953
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Fritz Langs’ Metropolis 1927