KANSAS: Carnival of Souls

This stylish, low-budget Kansas miracle has risen from its Sixties B-movie trappings to become a phenomenon, thanks to its imaginative combined use of a woozy all-organ score, B&W photography and eerie local flavor to create an off-kilter atmosphere that will cling to your psyche long after its final shot. When Mary accepts a job as the world’s creepiest church organist, she finds herself haunted by the maddening presence of a ghoulish, pasty-faced man (played by director Herk Harvey.) Although Utah’s then-abandoned Saltair Pavilion provides the film’s titular carnival, the moody majority of Carnival of Souls was shot with unknowns and locals in Harvey’s home of Lawrence, Kansas. Herk’s filmography is littered with decades’ worth of educational shorts, but he achieved a thorough immortality through this lone feature — one which positions Carnival as a fascinating early example of regional horror, and one which aesthetically prefigures early Lynch and Romero. Best viewed in the midnight hour, Carnival of Souls is timeless nightmare fuel of the first order.
Dir. Herk Harvey, 1962, 35mm.