#212 Carnival of Souls

Watched: December 19 2018

Director: Herk Harvey

Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Art Ellison, Sidney Berger, Stan Levitt

Year: 1962

Runtime: 1h 22min

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Three friends accept a challenge to a drag race (though not the fun one with RuPaul) and their car ends up in the river. Only Mary Henry (Hilligoss) comes out of the water, but soon after the accident she starts to experience strange things.

Carnival of Souls (1962)Directed by Herk Harvey Shown: Candace Hilligoss
“What is this thing?? How do you even drive a car?!? Who on earth placed me behind a stearing wheel?”

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Newly moved to Salt Lake City, Mary finds herself slightly obsessed with an abandoned pavilion formerly used as a carnival. Even worse, she is haunted by the creepiest neighbour in the state of Utah. Oh, and also by a ghostly visage which pops up in windows, visions and dreams. But the neighbour is almost creepier than the spectre.

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Let us lay some wisdom on you: if your neighbour gives you the willies worse than this guy, it’s time to move. We don’t care how low your rent is.

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While Stalky McCreeperson, real name John (Berger), next door continuously tries to get in her pants, Mary tries to stay sane and perform well at her job as an organist. But she is troubled by her hallucinations (or are they?) and some unusual episodes in which all sounds disappear and people seem unable to see her. What is really going on with our heroine?

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She is tormented by confusion. How can a man simultaneously look so frightening and so amiable?

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Honestly, we went into this not expecting much. It’s part of a DVD box set we own with 50 horror films, and most of them are sub-par to say the least (with some notable exceptions). But we were pleasantly surprised by this atmospheric and unsettling cult classic.

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This single image will haunt our dreams for the rest of our lives. And now yours. You’re welcome. #sharethetrauma

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We loved the intense lighting and the reflections during Mary’s drive to Utah; the truly distressing ghosts; the main character (Mary is actually quite independent and don’t need no man!); the music; the make-up; and the dancing ghouls.

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This isn’t from the film, by the way. We just really wanted to share some pictures from our New Year’s party. ‘Twas a strange affair…

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Sadly, this was Herk Harvey’s only foray into the world of horror, although some of his other credits would suggest otherwise: “Dance, Little Children,” “To Touch a Child” and “Shake Hands with Danger” are all, unfortunately, enlightening and moralizing short films despite their evocative titles, and not the psychotic horror thrills we had envisioned. Our lack of research led to a very disappointing movie night indeed…

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All we’re saying is, when you settle in to watch a film called “Pork: The Meal with a Squeal” directed by this guy, you expect some Hannibal Lecter stuff.

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What we learned: We found 2019’s Halloween make-up. It’s a done deal now. Also, you should check out Herk Harvey’s credits as director. There are some real gems among these titles.

Next time: Jules et Jim (1962)

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Bonus: Pit and the Pendulum

Watched: November 9 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Spain, 1546. Mr Barnard (Kerr) comes from England to see where and how his beloved sister Elizabeth (Steele) died. He meets his brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Price) and his sister Catherine (Anders) and is offered a strange and vague explanation of Elizabeth’s death.

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“Suffocation from too-tight corset” is not among the excuses. Neither is “tripped over own voluminous skirt and broke neck.”

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Family doctor Leon (Carbone) later reveals to the grieving brother that his sister died of fright. Since more details are surely required after such a statement, Medina confesses that his bride had become obsessed with the inquisition era torture chamber in the cellar, and that she perished in an Iron Maiden.

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We’ve always felt that a house is not a home without a fireplace, a lounge area, and an indoor torture chamber. We’re having ours installed next weekend.

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But is this all there is to it? Barnard is still not satisfied, and as we delve deeper into the house’s secrets, we learn that Medina’s father killed his brother and wife in the chamber when his children were young. Young Nicholas witnessed the ordeal and was never the same again.

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Exhibit A: this is now his default resting face

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As Medina devolves into madness, strange things also begin to happen in the castle… So what really happened to Elizabeth? Is she haunting them? Or was she buried prematurely, House of Usher-style?

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And why didn’t anyone bother informing doctor Leon of the dress code for the evening? These questions will haunt us…

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Pit and the Pendulum has everything we love: Gothic castles, secret passageways, hidden torture chambers, ghosts, murder, madness and torture. It is morbid, grotesque and lovely, and we completely adored Vincent Price as the confused, distressed widower. Barbara Steele’s eyes are as haunting as they were in Black Sunday, and she is the perfect Gothic heroine/villain (take your pick here). Personally, we are of course suckers for anything Poe (and Corman. And Price.), so we had no choice but to include this even though it is no longer on the list. It’s fantastic!

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Best watched by squinting from inside an Iron Maiden. Well, we say “best”…

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What we learned: Crazy is hereditary.

Next time: Carnival of Souls (1961)