Carnival of Souls (1962): Herk Harvey’s Independent Horror Feature

Produced and directed by Herk Harvey, and written by John Clifford from a story by Harvey and him, Carnival of Souls is an independent horror film, starring Candace Hilligoss.

The tale follows Mary Henry, a young woman whose life is disturbed after a car accident. She relocates to a new city, but she is unable to assimilate, and becomes drawn to the pavilion of an abandoned carnival.

The movie contains one scary nightmare, at the end of which Mary awakes in her car.

In the end, Mary is drawn back to the pavilion, where she finds her tormentors dancing, a pale version of herself paired with The Man. When she runs away, the ghouls chase her onto the beach and she collapses.

The following day, Samuels, the minister, and police go to the pavilion to look for Mary. They find her footprints in the sand and they end abruptly. Back in Kansas, her car is pulled from the river, with Mary in the front seat with the other two women.

Director Harvey appears in the film as a ghoulish stranger who stalks her throughout.

Filmed in Lawrence, Kansas and Salt Lake City, Carnival of Souls was shot on a budget of $33,000, with Harvey employing guerrilla filmmaking techniques.

Harvey’s only feature did not gain much attention when originally released as a double feature with The Devil’s Messenger in 1962.

Set to an organ score by Gene Moore, the film has been later noted by critics and  scholars for its cinematography and foreboding atmosphere.

It proved influential on numerous filmmakers, including David Lynch, George A. Romero, and Lucrecia Martel.

Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry
Frances Feist as Mrs. Thomas
Sidney Berger as John Linden
Art Ellison as Minister
Stan Levitt as Dr. Samuels
Tom McGinnis as Organ factory boss
Forbes Caldwell as Organ factory worker
Dan Palmquist as Gas station attendant
Bill De Jarnette as Mechanic
Steve Boozer as Chip
Pamela Ballard as Dress saleslady
Herk Harvey as “The Man” (the main ghoul)

TCM showed  the movie on October 16, 2020.