‘Carnival of Souls (1962)’ Review: High Expectations Equals Big Dissappointments

As soon as the movie abruptly starts a friendly street race begins with disastrous results. One of the drivers loses control of their vehicle, ends up crashing through the railing on a narrow bridge and plummeting into the river below. While volunteers and policemen scour the river looking for the sunken vehicle to no avail Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) miraculously climbs out of the water, clothes soaked and covered in mud. She is the sole survivor of this laughable traumatic accident.

The whereabouts of the car, the two other girls inside and how escaped her watery death trap are all unknown even by Mary Henry herself. While her escape from death might be both miraculous and mysterious Mary herself doesn’t seem phased by it at all. In fact, Mary doesn’t seem to care at all about her traumatic experience or anything else for that matter.   


“It’s Like I Don’t Exist”

Mary Henry is a headstrong, independent, and cynical woman. She has “no desire for the closeness of others.” Her cynicism is something separates her from everybody else and in a way, it’s almost as if she has a lack of soul. She continually demonstrates a lack awareness of the meaning of human attachment or the significance of the spiritual.

She plays the organ at a church yet ironically doesn’t seem to be a believer in the slightest. To Mary “a church is just a place of business.” However, this ignorance of the matters of the soul and heart isolates her in profound ways and prevents her from truly living. Her cynical nature will ultimately be the cause of her undoing. Despite her lack of religious ties Mary seems to have her own unique (almost spiritual) attachment to the organ. At times we find Mary completely entranced by the instrument. It’s like God himself is speaking to her through the organ(to warn her perhaps.) 


On the car ride to her new job in Utah, organ music eerily plays on the car radio on every channel. Not soon after she is shocked by the appearance of a frighteningly ghostly figure while driving past an old abandoned carnival. This creep figure with a face of death reminded me of the infamous (and delightfully chilling)“gentlemen” from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

I found the specter’s first appearance to be the most memorable moment of the film and genuinely chilling. From here on out Mary finds herself haunted by this spirit and drawn to the carnival it is attached to. Can she save herself before it’s too late? Well to answer that question, you’ll have to watch and find out for yourself. [Watch Carnival of Souls (in Color)]

Final Thoughts

The film was cheaply made and uses atmosphere and tone to create suspense and heighten tension. Films like “Psycho“, “Peeping Tom“, “Cat People“, and even “1921’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” all successfully use atmosphere and tone to shock, frighten and amaze audiences. Carnival of Souls, however, fails in comparison due to large technical goofs. 


The tap, tap,  tap of Mary’s heels hitting at the concrete ground is often out of synch with her own walking pace. Some scenes appear to have been filmed with no sound at all with or with the original sound stripped and it’s quite clear in some scenes more so than others. The overall sound editing is quite sloppy and it so noticeable that it forces you out of the picture and for me it spoiled the viewing experience. More underwhelming than the sound design was the fairly plain and static/boring cinematography of the film. The film had a lot of potential but overall was disappointing. While it may not be my favorite it’s worth rewatch (for its twist ending more than anything.) Trust me, Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls will certainly surprise you.