The influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) took a number of years to filter through in American horror. Hammer were quick to gain inspiration from Hitchcock’s film with a series of monochrome thrillers in the early 1960’s the best of which was Taste of Fear (1961). But in the first half of the 1960’s American horror productions largely continued in the vein of the Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe films. A notable exception is producer/director Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. Although Harvey also shoots in black and white, he generally rejects Psycho’s modernism in favour of an eerie Americana that exists out of time and has more in common with the traditions of the English ghost story. There is more than a hint of M. R. James about the proceedings making it a very atypical horror film for the 1960’s. This is perhaps why it is generally overlooked in discussions of the modern horror film. This is an America with a strange otherworldliness, a world of empty and foreboding churches, dark and labyrinthine roads and its centre a derelict carnival. The space of the American landscape is used to create a nightmare logic as the central character Mary tries to escape the feelings of dread and apprehension which plague her. At points the film switches to the structure of a road movie as Mary attempts to outrun a fate of which she can barely conceive.
© Shaun Anderson 2010