‘Wheels of Tragedy’: Death on the Highways in Carnival of Souls (1962) and the Highway Safety Film

  • Bernice M. Murphy Trinity College Dublin


This article argues that Carnival of Souls (1962), is a foundational text in the ‘Highway Horror’ sub- genre. It directly confronts one of the most pervasive taboos in modern American life: the horrific death toll associated with mass automobility. In Herk Harvey’s cult film, the protagonist is killed but finds herself unwilling to accept her fate. As in the many similar films that followed, the highway becomes a purgatorial space between life and death. The blindness of the protagonists is linked to society’s collective willingness to overlook (or tolerate) the devastating frequency of the fatal car crash. The article also discusses the highway safety films of the 1950s and 60s. 

Author Biography

Bernice M. Murphy, Trinity College Dublin

Bernice M. Murphy is lecturer in Popular Literature in the School of English, Trinity College, Dublin, and director of the M.Phil in Popular Literature. She has published extensively on topics related to popular literature and horror in film and fiction. Her books include The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture (2009), The Rural Gothic: Backwoods Horror and Terror in the Wilderness (2013), The Highway Horror Film (2014) and Key Concepts in Contemporary Popular Fiction (2017). 

“Saturn Devouring His Son,” Francisco Goya, c. 1819-1823
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