The Ghost Inside
Obviously, there isn't much to the story of Carnival of Souls. The film's plot is held together by small vignettes that are bridged by the presence of the ghost. Mary Henry seeks answers for her shifting reality, speaking to a doctor and a minister. The film doesn't have a lot of dialogue, it doesn't have a lot of action and, to some people, it probably plays as a pretty boring flick (thankfully, it's shockingly brief at 78 or 83 minutes, depending on which version you watch). Moreover, there are awkward goofs that made it into the film. For instance, in the opening scene, one of the "dead bodies" in Mary Henry's car is seen moving.
Despite these errors and the picture's irregular form, the film succeeds in Harvey's use of mise-en-scène, paired with the film's cinematography by another member of Centron Films, Maurice Prather. The high-contrast, black and white images of the carnival, featuring Harvey in pancake makeup, are surprisingly effective thanks to the emphasis that the organ score by Gene Moore brings to the images. These images, along with a third-act revelation, make Carnival of Souls a brief, creepy watch on a cold October night.
Drew Morton is a Ph.D. student in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles. His criticism and articles have previously appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the UWM Post, Flow, Mediascape, The Playlist, and Senses of Cinema. He is the 2008 and 2010 recipient of the Otis Ferguson Award for Critical Writing in Film Studies.