Carnival of Souls, a low-budget horror film directed by Herk Harvey in 1962, never achieved much fame or acclaim, yet it’s become a a cult favorite and is often mentioned as an influence by other filmmakers. It’s theme of a woman caught between life and death was unusual for its time and is cited as a reason that it rises above similar films. For Lincoln Highway fans, it offers a glimpse of Saltair, the famed lakeside bathing resort west of Salt Lake City, opened 1893 and connected to the city by rail. It later became a regular stop for cross-country travelers.
Above: The Moorish domes of Saltair are represented in the Carnival of Souls movie poster.
The lead character, Mary, is in a car wreck and assumed drowned. Instead, she apparently lives, becoming a church organist, but is haunted by a ghostly man. Her journey culminates in a trip to an ominous pavilion, which takes place at Saltair.
The creepiness in Carnival of Souls comes mostly from the dreamlike atmosphere instead of cheap scares or special effects. The pavilion keeps drawing her until she visits it in the climax. This clip, part 11 of 11 on YouTube, features great views of Saltair before it burned again in 1970. The first minute is spent with Mary reflecting, but then she is spooked, screams, and finding herself in her 1960 Chevy, backs out of a garage. At 1:56 we see her driving the approach road to Saltair and seconds later walking through it. About 3:30 ghouls arise from the lake to dance (or at least that’s my amateur interpretation of the action). About 5:50 they begin chasing her – she tried hiding among the support poles underneath. Views of the exterior start at 6:53 and a minute later it returns to the scene of the crash that started the movie and we learn her fate. WARNING: The scares are tame and the pace slow by today’s standards but nonetheless might be unsettling to some.