Carnival of Souls (1962)

Movie review coming on 10/28/2024

Film and Plot Synopsis

A young woman in a small Kansas town survives a drag race accident, then agrees to take a job as a church organist in Salt Lake City. En route, a bizarre apparition compels her toward an abandoned lakeside pavilion.

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Carnival of Souls (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

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‘Carnival of Souls’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
Carnival of Souls (1962)Carnival of Souls begins in small town Kansas. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) rides in a car with two other young women. When another car pulls up next to them, the man behind the wheel challenges the girls to a drag race, and they agree. The two take off down the rural road, but when they cross a bridge, the women’s car is crowded out. She over corrects for it, and her vehicle plunges into the river below.

Hours pass, and the police dredge the water, looking for any signs of life. However, they think the water is too deep and current too swift for the car to surface or for any of the women to have survived.

Suddenly, the assembled crowd runs down the bridge to look at one its supports below. They watch as Mary miraculously pops out of the water and stumbles onto the muddy bank. Silent and with a lifeless expression, Mary is unable to answer police questions as they shuffle her off to safety.

Some days pass, and Mary moves to Salt Lake City. A local church has previously hired her to be their organist. On a desert stretch of Utah highway, Mary’s AM radio begins playing a haunting melody from an organ. In a daze, she has visions of a man—pale, dead, and ghoulish—looking in at her through her passenger-side window. He disappears just as quickly as he appears. Further down the road, The Man (Herk Harvey) appears again, blocking her path. Mary screams and swerves the car to keep from hitting The Man. Her car careens into the dirt embankment.

Alone again, she drives off. Along the Great Salt Lake sits an eerie pavilion abandoned on its shores. Something about it calls out to Mary, but fear keeps her driving down the road. Once she rolls into the nearest gas station, she has the attendant (Dan Palmquist) fill up her car. She asks him about the pavilion, and he tells her it was once a bathhouse before becoming a dance hall. When it closed, it was only used as a carnival.

Once Mary reaches Salt Lake City, she goes to the home of Mrs. Thomas (Frances Feist) who rents out her two spare rooms to visitors in town. John Linden (Sidney Berger) rents the other one.

Mary unpacks, and heads over to her new church to meet the Minister (Art Ellison); to see the new organ she will play for the congregation. After she checks out the organ, she and the Minister have a very awkward conversation. He’d like her to meet the women of the church for a formal introduction, but Mary wants none of that.

Their conversation then turns to the old pavilion, and the Minister offers to drive Mary out to it. However, the Minister stops her from trespassing once they arrive, because that would be illegal.

Mary heads back to her lodge. She takes a hot bath as Mrs. Thomas said she can take as many as she wants! When Mary hears a knock at the door, she gets out of the tub, throws on a towel, and opens it. Thinking its Mrs. Thomas bringing her a sandwich and coffee, she’s not properly dressed for any other visitors.

To her dismay, it’s the other lodger, John. He’s something of a creep himself, and he tries to take a peek of Mary through the gap between the door and doorjamb as she changes out of her little outfit into a more respectable nightgown. He asks her to dinner, but she declines. The guy is fairly pushy about getting better acquainted with the woman, but after she rebuffs his advances, he tucks his tail between his legs and heads back to his room.

Minutes later, Mary goes into the hallway as if something is calling her. When she looks at the bottom of the stairs, The Man is standing at the base, looking up fiendishly at her. She freaks out and heads back into her room. There’s a knock at the door. Mary refuses to answer. The door opens, but its chain keeps it from opening completely. Mrs. Thomas calls out to Mary from behind it. She’s there to deliver her food. Frantic, Mary lets her in and asks Mrs. Thomas about The Man. She doesn’t have the foggiest idea who Mary is referring to, and says she should eat.

The next morning, John patiently waits outside Mary’s door while she sleeps. When he hears her alarm go off, he knocks on the door. She goes to open it, and John invites himself in with two mugs of coffee and a near empty bottle of whiskey. He tries to get to know her again, but she needs to go shopping and he has to work to do.

At the department store, Mary has a very strange paranormal experience. While in the fitting room, as she changes back into her clothes, a wave hits her. Something’s off in the world, but she doesn’t know it yet. When she exits the room and returns to the saleswoman, the woman does not see or hear Mary. It’s as if she doesn’t exist. In fact, she’s equally invisible and inaudible to the entire world at this moment. She panics and roams around the city; unable to hear it until she stumbles into a park. Beneath a tree, bathed in sunlight, she grasps its branch, and begins to hear the birds chirp. The world comes alive to her once more.

Thirsty, she walks over to a water fountain. As she drinks, someone walks over to her. She looks up, and it’s the man staring down at her. She screams and starts to flee, but runs into the arms of a somewhat creepy Dr. Samuels (Stan Levitt) who shows her the man standing next to the fountain is just an ordinary one. Seeing that she’s in distress, he offers her help while acknowledging he’s not a psychiatrist.

Back at his office (still no indication of what type of doctor he is), Mary tells him her story while he sits with the back of his big chair facing her. It obscures his view as he writes notes from her story. He swivels around to show his face and tells her that she’s having delusions related to her near drowning in the river. The conversation turns to her love life, but she says she doesn’t want to date men. She doesn’t want to date women. She just feels dead inside. However, she doesn’t need anyone, and that abandoned pavilion is calling out to her. She leaves Samuels’ office and heads to it.

At the pavilion, Mary find it abandoned. However, random items fly at her or slide down slides towards her. Creepy organ music plays from unknown areas on the rafters above. While she doesn’t spot him, The Man waits just under the lake’s surface. Mary returns back to the lodge not finding whatever lured her there.

Mary goes from one creep to the next as she finds John waiting for her at the lodge. He wants to take her to dinner, but she rebuffs him once more as she needs to go to church to practice playing. John gets mad and doesn’t give up. However, The Man and her paranormal experience still haunts her. Not wanting to be alone, she agrees to go out with him after practice.

Later as Mary practices, her heavenly music slowly becomes more haunting as she enters some eerie trance. She has visions of The Man and his other ghouls dancing at the pavilion to her music. The Minister, upon hearing the strange tune, denounces it as sacrilege and demands Mary resign. She doesn’t say a word, and with no expression, she gets up and walks out.

Outside the church, John, who’s now more of a stalker than The Man, smokes behind a bush to take Mary out. He’s been waiting for her the whole time. They go to a local bar where John tires to get Mary drunk. However, she’s still in her odd trance. Annoying and annoyed, John takes Mary home.

She wants to call it a night, but she still doesn’t want to be alone. Uninterested in why Mary doesn’t want to be alone, John uses it to try to take advantage of her. Up in her room, John tries to force himself on her. As he backs her towards the wall, he starts to kiss her neck from behind. She looks into the mirror before her and sees The Man with an evil grin going in for the kiss—not Jack—doubly creepy! Mary freaks out and John thinking she’s crazy, leaves the room. Terrified, Mary starts moving the room’s furniture around to barricade herself in it.

The next morning, Dr. Samuels talks to Mrs. Thomas in the foyer of her lodge. He tells her that Mary isn’t well, but she’s refused his offer for further help, and is currently packing her belongings to leave town. He heads out as Mary continues packing. She comes downstairs where Mrs. Thomas says she can not refund any of her rent. Mary says nothing, gets into her car, and drives away.

On her way through downtown, her car’s transmission begins to act up, and she stops off at a garage. The mechanic (Bill De Jarnette) has her drive on a lift to fix it but she refuses to leave the car. She asks to wait inside while he fixes it. When another car drives up for a full service gas stop, the mechanic leaves.

Alone, Mary senses a shadowy figure walk into the garage. The person lowers the car on the lift. Suddenly the door she’s leaning on opens and Mary runs off though town. As she does, the wave hits her again. Sound leaves the world, and people no longer hear or see Mary like the day before.

She winds up at a Greyhound Bus Station, but can not buy a ticket since the agent can not see her. She suddenly hears one voice from the worldly quiet—bus number nine is now departing. Mary races for it, and gets on. To her horror, the bus is full of the dancing ghouls from her vision at the pavilion. She runs off and eventually finds herself at the same park under the same tree as the day before. Once again, as she takes hold of its branch, she begins to hear the birds chirp, and the world comes alive.

She decides to find the only person who’s offered to help her, and heads to Dr. Samuels’ office. She tells him her story again as he sits with his chair turned away from her so he can take notes. When the chair slowly swivels back to her, The Man sits grinning in it. Mary screams.

She snaps awake to find herself back in her car at the mechanic’s garage. It was just a nightmare! Mary throws the car in reverse, and drives to the pavilion which she still has an odd attraction to. Once inside, she walks to the dimly-lit main hall. Among the forgotten party streamers and festive lights, the ghouls dance to that haunting song from an unseen organ. Mary spots a pale, lifeless version of herself waltzing with The Man. She shrieks in horror.

The ghouls spot Mary and chase her throughout the pavilion until they come to the wet sand of the lake’s shore. As she falls onto the beach, the ghouls surround her.

The next day, Dr. Samuels, the Minister, and some police find Mary’s car at the pavilion. The cops show the two men her tracks that lead to an abrupt end. Only a hand print in the sand remains of Mary’s final stand.

Back in Kansas, the authorities have finally found the wrecked car in the river. When they pull it out, Mary’s lifeless body sits in the front seat alongside the other two women. She never survived that crash.

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Herts-Lion International Corp. released Carnival of Souls on September 26, 1962. Herk Harvey directed the film starring Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, and Sidney Berger.

User Rating: 3.7 ( 1 votes)
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