Public Domain Movie: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls: Review

Carnival of Souls is a black and white film and was released in 1962. It is a film that doesn’t wow its viewers with fancy special effects. It doesn’t have any to wow them with. Instead it relies on atmosphere and is a chilling, and slightly disturbing film that is a must-see for all classic horror movie lovers.

Carnival of Souls starts simply enough. Three young girls are sitting in a car, waiting at traffic lights. Then two guys pull up alongside them and challenge them to a drag race. Obviously all for women’s lib, and willing to burn rubber along with their bras, the girls tear away from the lights with the guys in close pursuit. It is when the cars are crossing a bridge that disaster strikes, and the girl’s car crashes through the railing and plummets into the river below.

Of the girls only Mary Henry survives, and comes stumbling from the water three hours later, while the emergency service are still busy dragging the river.

We can only guess what Mary’s personality was like before the accident, but after it she is a cold and uncaring soul. Somewhat of a lost soul too, perhaps. She is, by profession, an organist and decides to leave the town behind and start a new job, and a new life, in Salt Lake City. Just before she departs someone says to her: “Good luck Mary. Stop by and see us the next time you’re in.”

“Thank you,” she says. “But I’m never coming back. A cold fish that Mary and no mistake.

While driving to Salt Lake City Mary passes a large, abandoned carnival pavillion and feels unaccountably drawn towards it. Although it is a little later in the film before she actually pays it a visit. It is while she is driving past the pavilion, for the first time, that something strange happens. Mary looks to her right and sees the ghoulish apparition of a man, reflected in her passenger side window. He stares at Mary and she almost swerves off the road in fright. When he puts in a second appearance, only moments later, Mary ends up leaving the road after all.

Carnival of Souls Movie Poster
Carnival of Souls Movie Poster

Mary’s landlady at the lodging house is quite a charming old lady and the only other lodger is an overtly lecherous and pushy young man who takes an instant liking to the young organist. Mary, in typical cold fish fashion, has little trouble in keeping her would be suitor at bay, but soon has other things to worry about when she looks at her reflection in the bedroom window and sees the stange and sinister-looking apparition of the man instead. It is not long before the man puts in a more physical appearance in the hallway, although no one but Mary sees him. The man starts to appear more frequently as the film progresses, and he looks more dead and zombie-like every time. In the end Mary has little choice, but to seek answers at the deserted carnival pavilion.

The soundtrack of Carnival of Souls, with its creepy organ music, contributes a lot to the dark atmosphere of the film and I think that one of the most unnerving things about Mary’s strange white faced stalker is that he never speaks. When he brings his friends along to meet Mary none of them talk either, but they all have the same terrible white faces and, as they cut a rug and twirl among the deserted carnival buildings they give a whole new perspective to the phrase ‘dance of death.’ But if they are asking, Mary doesn’t seem to keen on dancing, and who can blame her?

Additional Information

Director: Herk Harvey


Candace Hilligoss … Mary Henry
Frances Feist … Mrs. Thomas, Landlady
Sidney Berger … John Linden
Art Ellison … Minister
Stan Levitt … Dr. Samuels
Tom McGinnis … Organ Factory Boss

Forbes Caldwell … Organ Factory Worker
Dan Palmquist … Gas Station Attendant
Bill de Jarnette … Mechanic
Steve Boozer … Chip (Man at Juke Box)
Pamela Ballard … Dress Sales Lady
Larry Sneegas … Drag Racer

Cari Conboy … Lake Zombie
Karen Pyles … Dress Store Customer
T.C. Adams … Dancing Zombie
Sharon Scoville … Mary’s Girlfriend
Mary Ann Harris … Mary’s Girlfriend
Peter Schnitzler … A Walking Corpse
Bill Sollner … Lake Zombie

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