Carnival of Souls appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The film looked terrific.
Sharpness seems consistently strong. Only the most minor softness appeared, so the majority of the flick appeared tight and distinctive/. I saw no jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. With a nice, light layer of grain, I witnessed no indications of digital noise reduction.
Black levels seemed strong. The film maintained excellent contrast and provided a clear and defined black and white image. Shadow detail looked appropriately opaque and deep, and print flaws were a non-factor in this clean presentation. I felt very satisfied with this excellent presentation.
Though not as good, the film’s LPCM monaural audio appeared more than acceptable. Early in the movie we got some poorly dubbed dialogue, but those problems didn't continue. Speech sounded a little dull but the lines were adequately reproduced and always remained intelligible.
Music lacked a lot of range, but the score showed reasonably decent quality. Effects were clear and fairly realistic, and they display no egregious signs of distortion. Given the movie’s age and budget, this was a more than adequate soundtrack.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original Criterion DVD? Audio was a little peppier, though only so much could be done with the 54-year-old source. Visuals showed more obvious improvements, as the Blu-ray looked notably tighter, cleaner and more film-like.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. From 1989, we find a scene-select audio commentary with director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford. Harvey contributes most of the remarks, and he seems to have been recorded much of his stuff alone. Some of Clifford's comments appear to be solo, but we also hear some definite interaction between the two.
The “screen-specific” moniker means a lot of the movie passes without comment, so hang close to the Blu-ray’s index. When we do hear from Clifford or Harvey, their statements are generally pretty interesting and entertaining. They give us a reasonable overview of the production and useful aspects of the film’s creation. The “scene-select” nature of the track makes it a little frustrating, but it still adds some good material.
Also from 1989, The Movie That Wouldn't Die! brings us a 32-minute, 12-second look at the production. Created by a local TV station in Topeka, we hear from Harvey, Clifford, “film buff” Mark Syverson, student filmmaker Tim DePaepe, investor Glenn Kappelman, and actors Sidney Berger and Candace Hilligoss.
“Die” mainly covers the film's 1989 revival and minor renaissance. We do find a good mix of notes about the production as well as a tour of movie locations. “Die” adds up to a reasonably satisfying overview.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think even fans of Souls will find the
Outtakes section disappointing. We find 27 minutes, nine seconds of material, and virtually all of the shots offer alternate takes. I see nothing that looks like truly new material. It all seems to be different or extended versions of the shots that made the final cut.
These become semi-useless due to the lack of a natural audio track.
We hear no dialogue or effects or anything from the original source material. Instead, bits of Gene Moore's score plays over all of the footage.
Frankly, I can't imagine why anyone would find these shots interesting. The presence of raw audio might have made them intriguing since we could witness the cast and crew interaction, but even as a look behind the scenes, these pieces appear dull.
The prior Criterion DVD included an extended cut of the film that the studio omitted from the Blu-ray, apparently due to quality issues with the added sequences. We do find these here as deleted scenes.
This area includes “Organ Factory” (1:16), “Running” (1:00) and “Doctor’s Office” (1:45). The sequences provide minor exposition but wouldn’t add anything significant to the film.
New to the Blu-ray, Final Destination provides an interview with writer/comedian Dana Gould. In his 22-minute, 41-second chat, Gould gives us production notes as well as an appreciation for the film. He praises it too much – even if I agreed with his thoughts, we hear too much about the flick’s alleged greatness. Still, Gould gives us a decent look at the movie’s background/creation.
Under Regard from Nowhere, we find a video essay. Created by critic/filmmaker David Cairns, the 23-minute, 36-second piece includes narration from Cairns as well as comments from horror cartoonist Stephen R. Bissette, critic/horror novelist Anne Billson, and horror screenwriter Fiona Watson. Like “Destination”, “Nowhere” provides a mix of appreciation and production info. I’m getting a little tired of all the attempts to justify/praise the lackluster quality of Souls - though at least Cairns acknowledges some of the film’s deficits.
A 1966 documentary from a Utah TV station, Saltair: Return to the Salt Queen lasts 26 minutes. The show gives us a history of a prominent location used in Souls. Though dry, the program gives us some good information.
In addition to the film’s trailer, a few elements appear under The Centron Corporation. A featurette tells us of the industrial film company’s “History” (9:56), and we also find segments from five Centron releases: “Star 34” (12:38), “Rebound” (21:15), “Case History of a Sales Meeting” (5:32), “To Touch a Child” (12:01) and “Signals: Read ‘Em or Weep” (5:24. We get a 1967 commercial as well (2:13).
What relevance does Centron have here? Harvey and Clifford worked at Centron for decades, so we see glimpses of their efforts there. These vary in terms of how interesting they are, but they’re a valuable addition to the set.
Though Carnival of Souls has built a significant following over the years, I can't see why. The movie displays some solid visual panache but falters due to problems with every other aspect of the film. The Blu-ray offers excellent picture along with acceptable audio and a reasonably informative set of supplements. I don’t get the movie’s appeal, but fans should love this terrific release.