Upon release in 1962 the film was a failure in the box office, but its subsequent airings on late night television helped to gain it a strong cult following. Today it is regarded as a landmark in psychological horror.
According to director Herk Harvey, one reel of footage for the film was unfortunately ruined during processing. Harvey said it was a long series of shots that was suppose to take place just before Mary sees the "souls" dancing in the ballroom. In the shots the ghouls were supposed to slowly appear from behind the rotting dock pylons out on the salt flats and slowly walk across the prairie to the ballroom, where they would begin to dance. Sadly, the footage was overexposed during the processing and couldn't be included in the film..
The bridge used in the opening of the film is called the Lecompton Bridge, named after the nearby town of Lecompton, KS. The Kaw River runs under it. The iron bridge was replaced with a concrete one in 1970.
This film was shot on location in Salt Lake City, Utah, and in Lawrence, Kansas, with interior shots at the Centron Studios in Lawrence. Centron was an industrial film company, producing industrial and educational films and "social guidance" short subjects in the 1950s into the 1960s. Most of this film's technical staff, including director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford, were Centron employees.
The Saltair that appears in the film actually burned down in the early '70s. In the early '80s another version of Saltair was rebuilt, although it was a much smaller design. Shortly after it was built, the Great Salt Lake rose and flooded it out. In 1993, the building was remodeled and reopened, now it's mainly used as a small venue for musical acts.
According to star Candace Hilligoss, the river water she was submerged in for the film's finale was frigidly cold. She said she had to be placed in the water for several hours to get the final shots. In fact, one of the actresses lying next to Hilligoss can be seen trembling from the cold water.
In the late 1980s, Candace Hilligoss wrote a treatment for a sequel to 'Carnival of Souls'. She took it to associate Peter Soby Jr. who instead decided to produce a remake of the original film (also called Carnival of Souls (1998)). Hilligoss had no part of the production.
Portions of the movie are tinted in a manner similar to silent films. Whenever Mary is in one of her altered mental states, the picture has a faint cyan tint, while all the "real" scenes are in pure black-and-white. Later in the film, the tinted segments also have distorted sound and picture.