Herk Harvey spent nearly his entire directing career toiling in the gratification-free world of corporate industrials and educational movies. (His first credit was a short about grammar titled Why Punctuate - which, you'll notice, needs a question mark.) But in 1962, sometime between making How to Succeed in School and Pork: The Meal With a Squeal, Harvey decided to use some vacation time to make a low-budget horror feature. Just about everything on the surface of Carnival of Souls screams B-movie trash: It has stilted dialogue, cheap special effects, crummy sound editing, and a plot that only just barely hangs together. But there are lots of scenes and shots that reflect real brilliance, and that's earned the movie a cult following, not to mention a Criterion Collection spine number. It's still strictly the stuff of late-night creature features, but it's got an admirable, workmanlike pace, some real scares, and enough smarts to shut up the mouthy robots of MST3K.
That said, the plot's crap. Candice Hilligoss plays Mary, a young blonde who miraculously escapes from a car that's fallen off a bridge and into a river after a drag race. She leaves town shortly after the accident to take a job as a church organist in Utah, but something's wrong: While on the road and in her new city she has visions of a man (played by Harvey himself) with a ghostly face and dark scary eyes. That freaks out Mary quite enough, but she also discovers that she occasionally becomes invisible to those around her, and that she's strangely compelled to visit an abandoned amusement park by a lake, populated by more ghouls. Despite the best efforts of the church priest (Art Ellison) and her would-be hepcat neighbor, John (Sidney Berger), Mary slowly loses it, propelling the film to its way-creepy twist ending - whose logic completely collapses under the weight of two seconds of thought.
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