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Herk Harvey
Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger
Writing Credits:
John Clifford

After a traumatic accident, a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English LPCM Mono

Runtime: 78 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 7/12/2016

• Selected-Scene Commentary with Director Herk Harvey and Writer John Clifford
• Deleted Scenes
• Outtakes
• “Final Destination” Featurette
• “The Movie That Wouldn’t Die!” Documentary
• “Regards from Nowhere” Video Essay
• “Saltair: Return to the Salt Queen” Documentary
• “The Centron Corporation” Essay
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Carnival of Souls: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1962)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 28, 2016)

When Criterion releases a film, that movie tends to get a form of “automatic credibility”. Of course, many of the titles they handle already enjoy great fame, but when Criterion takes on more obscure material, those films get a boost in public awareness.

In this category comes 1962’s Carnival of Souls, a “cult classic” that boasted a small but dedicated following before Criterion approached it. Though the film’s fan base remained small, those who liked it really liked it.

Alas, I can’t count myself in that club, as I fail to see much of the film’s supposed appeal. At best, Souls offers a triumph of style over substance, while at worst, it's just a cheesy piece of fluff.

The story starts with a car crash from which only one person emerges: a pretty young woman named Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss). We know literally nothing about Henry prior to the wreck, but afterward, we see that she's a church organist who takes a job in Utah and heads that way. Along the drive, she sees a decrepit old resort called Saltair, and she develops a strange fascination with it.

Mary comes across as a disconnected and cold person who doesn't interact terribly well with others. Is this different than she was prior to the wreck?

I guess. After all, she starts the film crammed into the front seat of a car with two female friends - though she never appears to be the kind of person who'd have gal pals who love to drag race - but since we know absolutely nothing about her past, it's hard to say. In any case, Mary spends the majority of the film in something of a numb haze which is punctuated only by her horrific visions of ghoulish men who seem to stalk her.

All of this leads somewhere, so I don't want to ruin the surprises with too much of the story. Not that these “curveballs” will seem terribly shocking, as I suspect most viewers will figure out the plot twists well in advance.

The somewhat predictable nature of the story's machinations don't cause me to dislike Souls. After all, few movies give us stories that we can’t foresee to a large degree - it's the way the tale unfolds that makes it an interesting ride.

Unfortunately, I fond little about that journey to entertain or interest me in the case of Souls. The plot itself appears feeble and weak at best, and we find little else on which to hang our hats.

Souls provides an example of a movie that's all looks and no brains. Director Herk Harvey - who made industrial films his whole life, with Souls as his only theatrical entry - imbues the picture with a striking visual style. Without his creepy vision, this movie would be an absolute dud, for nothing else about it goes anywhere. At leastthe film looks terrific, with some spooky and eerie images that will stay with me much longer than the largely-nonsensical story, the generic "creepshow" music and the abysmal acting.

It's that last category that really kills Souls. Boy, are the performances terrible!

Hilligoss never rises above "laughable" as our haunted heroine. She seems so vacant and shallow that one could make an argument she did this on purpose, I suppose. Perhaps she tried to act that way to symbolize Mary’s detachment from society, but I think such an interpretation gives far too much credit to this talentless performer.

I wish I could say that Hilligoss stands out among the other actors, but she fits in well with this group of summer stock outcasts. If there's a well-acted piece in this movie, I can't find it.

I suppose some of the ghouls at least look appropriately spooky, and they generally have little enough to do that they don't ruin the tale with bad acting, but some of their "scary moves" toward the end of the picture indeed do so. The climax seems less intense/terrifying and more goofy/silly, partially because of the campy work by these minor performers.

To compound the problems with the acting, the story itself is muddled at best. It makes little sense at most times, and I honestly don't think the filmmakers knew what it was supposed to mean.

Writer John Clifford alludes to this possibility during the supplements - Souls was such a cheap and slap-dash production that the filmmakers sacrificed logic was sacrificed to simply get the thing made. The whole silly thing just limps along until it mercifully ends with a conclusion that raises more questions than it answers.

For all its good looks, Carnival of Souls remains a dumb movie. At its best, it can be watchable and mildly entertaining in a campy fashion.

However, at its worst, it's a silly attempt to wed the horror and "art" genres that comes across as a disjointed and poorly executed mess. Souls isn't the worst film I've ever seen, but based on its stellar rep, it's one of the most over-rated.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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