Carnival of Souls
Following the example of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Carnival of Souls chooses as its protagonist a modern, free-thinking, intelligent young woman whose independence is thwarted by a society clinging to a lace doily propriety frowning on women taking the initiative. As Janet Leigh's Marion in Psycho (her name was Mary in Robert Bloch's source novel) has to break the law in order to break out on her own, Carnival's Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) has to defy if not defeat death. When we catch up with both women on the other side of their respective transgressions, they are engaged in long car trips through (to quote cinema scholar Bruce Kawin) "the cheap, raw, ordinary landscape of America." Along for the ride with both women are their pet fears and insecurities, which haunt Marion in the form of an endlessly looping inner dialogue and Mary as a succession of shock intrusions by "The Man" (director Herk Harvey), a whey-faced nebbish in a conservative three-button suit who seems to be acting as a sort of assistant general manager of the dead, rudely invading Mary's personal space with the persistence of a process server.
While Harvey's character name was likely meant by scenarist John Clifford as a blandly mysterious descriptor, the phrase "the Man" would soon enter the parlance of the American counter culture as a synonym for all things restrictive and repressive about the American Dream. Yet what's interesting is that Mary Henry (like Marion Crane before her) isn't un-interested in the Dream, she just wants it on her own terms - which is to say Mary prefers that she be allowed to enjoy it alone. The character was written by John Clifford as something of an enigma, a woman whose aloofness is key to her undying dilemma. Yet as played by Candace Hilligoss (who had to fight her director to make the character more human), Mary does engender sympathy and stands as something of a poster child for anyone who ever wanted, for whatever reason, to be left the hell alone. (Mary is such a textbook Outsider and Hilligoss so perfectly balanced between feminine and masculine traits that it's amazing the character never caught on with drag performers.) As nature abhors a vacuum, so society abhors a woman alone. A square peg in a round hole world, college-educated Mary can't resign herself to sharing a life with the pious eunuchs and tactless horn dogs she encounters. She uses words and expresses curiosities men don't understand and women don't share and her passions and proclivities drive her to her end. Like The Bride of Frankenstein's Undying Monster (who rises, like Mary in Carnival, from a supposed watery grave), Mary comes to embrace the reality that she belongs dead; the fact that she does die does not mitigate the life she chose for herself. In the end, Mary isn't outclassed, just outnumbered.
Producer: Herk Harvey
Director: Hark Harvey
Screenplay: Jack Clifford, Herk Harvey
Cinematography: Maurice Prather
Film Editing: Bell de Jarnette, Dan Palmquist
Music: Gene Moore
Cast: Candace Hilligoss (Mary Henry), Frances Feist (Mrs. Thomas), Sidney Berger (John Linden), Art Ellison (Minister), Stan Levitt (Dr. Samuels), Tom McGinnis (Organ Factory Boss).
by Richard Harland Smith