Women in Horror Recognition Spotlight #9–Candace Hilligoss, “Carnival of Souls”

Herk Harvey’s 1962 cult favorite CARNIVAL OF SOULS was an anomaly in many ways, from its homegrown status to its then-atypical resolution (drawn from Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge” and later echoed by everything from JACOB’S LADDER to THE OTHERS and many more). Also setting it apart was that it featured a female character at its center, presenting us with a heroine to follow that didn’t hinge on a murderous, gear-shifting twist (see PSYCHO, HORROR HOTEL).

Candace Hilligoss (a stage actress with no prior film experience) is given the unenviable task of carrying the entire film, and though the film’s atmospheric photography and eerie church-organ score help with the load Hilligoss gives an effective performance. Cold and distant, she still manages to connect with the audience by conveying her character’s profound loneliness and alienation.

Hilligoss’ screen career was not an extensive one (reportedly her agent refused to represent her following SOULS’ box-office failure), popping up in Del Tenney’s THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE before languishing in obscurity until the film’s 1989 revival. It would’ve been great if Hilligoss could’ve had a heftier filmography–she could’ve given Barbara Steele a run for her money in the ’60s–her limited exposure helps give CARNIVAL OF SOULS an added dimension, as if we were uncovering the story of a real, everyday individual.

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