Archive for the ‘Carnival of Souls (1962)’ Category

Spine #63

Carnival of Souls - Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA

Release Date: July 12, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 1:18:14

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono LPCM (48kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 32.37 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD edition from Criterion, and can also available in an unimpressive DVD release from ‘Off Color Films’ (which also includes a dreadful colorized version). It should be mentioned that both of these editions include the famous “Director’s Cut” of the film, which is eight minutes longer than the film’s theatrical release.

TITLE

“It was sunset, and I was driving back to Kansas from California when I first saw Saltair, an abandoned amusement park located at the end of a long causeway into the Great Salt Lake. The lake had receded, and the pavilion, with its strange Moorish towers, stood silhouetted against the red sky. I felt I had been transported into a different time and dimension. I stopped the car and walked out to the pavilion. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. The stark white of the salt beach, and the dark quiet of the deserted buildings created the weirdest location I had ever seen. When I got back to Kansas I discussed Saltair with my friend, coworker, and writer, John Clifford. We agreed [that] with the Saltair location and others we had scouted locally, we could develop a script for a very eerie feature film.

Well, John wrote the script for Carnival of Souls in three weeks, and our crew spent a week in Salt Lake City filming Saltair, and two weeks in Lawrence Kansas filming the rest of the movie. We were naïve enough to hope for the look of a Bergman film and the feel of a Cocteau. When a preview was shown in Lawrence in the fall of 1961, the audience’s reaction was mixed. The Bergan look and the Cocteau feel were a little too far out for the time and place. That year, Carnival of Souls was shown in shortened form primarily in the south in drive-ins as part of a double bill, and then it went underground.

Making the film had been exciting. Distributing the film had been agonizing… But Carnival of Souls had affected more people during its short run than we thought. Through magazines, books, and television, it has become a cult classic…” –Herk Harvey (Video Introduction)  

Saltair Resort Postcard

This is a vintage postcard that features the Saltair Resort.

Herk Harvey’s description of the film’s strange journey from a low budget passion project to a celebrated cult classic should be encouraging to any future filmmakers who are currently saving their pennies in an effort to make their dreams come true. Carnival of Souls is required viewing for these individuals. However, it also works as an eerie mood piece. Sure, it is a low budget film with many obvious flaws, but there are many people who might argue that these flaws actually add to the surreal nature of the film. Whatever category readers of this review might fall into, it is recommended that everyone see the film once so that they can make an educated decision for themselves (because it could easily go either way).

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is housed in the clear case that has become the standard for The Criterion Collection. Edward Kinsella’s original artwork is brilliantly conceived and probably surpasses the film’s original one sheet artwork. An added bonus is the wonderful fold out pamphlet featuring an essay by Kier-La Janisse.

The disc’s menus utilize eerie footage from the actual film coupled with Gene Moore’s organ score.

Menu 1Menu 2Menu 3Menu 4

It is an elegant menu that is quite easy to navigate. All of this makes for an extremely attractive presentation.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has given viewers an outstanding high definition transfer of the film’s original theatrical cut of the film that looks incredibly clean. Their transfer of the 4K restoration of the film is a marvel to behold. As always, the film’s restoration was explained in technical detail in the leaflet provided in the disc’s case:

“This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, jitter, and flicker.” –Liner Notes

The resulting image is incredibly detailed with remarkable clarity and depth. Contrast is also beautifully rendered while blacks are deep without crushing. Meanwhile, the rich and always consistent grain textures add a beautifully organic quality to the proceedings. One could easily argue that seeing this new restoration of the film gives fans of the film an altogether new experience. It is impossible to find anything to criticize! This is a gorgeous transfer.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s uncompressed sound transfer is perhaps the most surprisingly immaculate element on this disc. The film’s famous organ music is finally given enough room to breathe while allowing the dialogue to be as crisp and clearly defined as the film’s ambience. As is usual with Criterion discs, steps were taken to ensure that the sound isn’t marred by any distracting anomalies.

“The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4.” –Liner Notes

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has included a near-perfect supplemental package for Carnival of Souls. It is as close to perfect as anyone has a right to expect. There are those who may fault Criterion for not including the infamous “Directors Cut” of the film, but this was probably excluded because this version has always been sourced from a one-inch video copy. It would be pointless to release such a copy on Blu-ray (although, a DVD copy of this version could have made a very nifty second disc). Only the most ungrateful cinemaphiles should allow this omission to affect their opinion of this sensational package.

We are given over five hours of material, and all of it is well worth watching.

Audio Commentary with Herk Harvey (Director) and John Clifford (Screenwriter)

This selected scene commentary with the film’s director and writer is taken from a 1989 retrospective interview with the two gentleman. It was edited to create this sparse commentary track (which is always informative and engaging). It is really to bad that it doesn’t fill the entire length of the film.

Deleted Scenes:

Those who haven’t already seen the film’s director’s cut should find these three deleted scenes fascinating. They were cut from Carnival of Souls before the 1962 release of the film. Unfortunately, the best available source for the deleted footage was a one-inch analog videotape.

Organ Factory – (01:17)

This is a scene that suffers from awkward dialogue (or perhaps wooden delivery of “on the nose” dialogue), but it is a scene that has certain virtues. However, one wonders if the film didn’t benefit from its omission.

Running – (01:00)

While this scene doesn’t seem to add much to the film, the inclusion of this footage did make for a more effective edit.  Out of the three deleted scenes, this is the one that comes the closest to being missed (even if it seems to be the most insignificant).

Doctor’s Office – (01:45)

This scene has a creepy quality that adds to both the film’s tone and story, but it seems to work better in its shorter form.

Outtakes – (27:09)

This lengthy collection of outtakes are accompanied by Gene Moore’s organ score, and there is so much here that it might actually overwhelm the average viewer. While this footage might not be as engaging without any context provided to help guide the viewer, it is certainly a generous offering that fans should find interesting. More supplemental packages should include such a feature.

The Movie That Wouldn’t Die! – (32:13)

This 1989 reunion documentary was made in an effort to celebrate and promote the film’s 1989 theatrical release. Herk Harvey and John Clifford are on hand to explain the conception of the film’s story, the process of funding their project, the location shooting, and the initial reception of the film during its original release. Candace Hilligoss (actress), Glenn Kappelman (one of the investors), Tim DePaepe (filmmaker), and Mark Syverson (fan) also lend their voice to the proceedings. The program was created by Bill Shaffer for a television station in Topeka, Kansas (KTWU – Channel 11), and it is without a doubt one of the better features included on the disc.

Hidden Featurette: The Carnival Tour

Those who wait for the credits to roll on “The Movie That Wouldn’t Die” will discover this tour of some of the film’s locations. (The tour took place in 2000, and the locations have probably changed a bit in the past 16 years.) It is interesting to see what these locations looked like so many years after the release of the film.

Regards from Nowhere – (23:36)

David Cairns (Film Critic) offers a slightly more scholarly appreciation of the film as he discusses various aspects of the film including the unusual netherworld featured in the film. One might call this a video essay or an appreciation instead of a proper documentary, but it is a creatively rendered essay that includes excerpts from interviews with various other participants that appreciate the film, snippets from some of Harvey and Clifford’s industrial shorts, background information, and an impressive presentation. This is exactly the sort of scholarly material that Criterion fans have come to appreciate.

Final Destination – (22:41)

One wonders if Dana Gould (Comedian) can really be seen as a serious authority on Carnival of Souls, but it must be said that his enthusiasm for the film is contagious. He discusses his love for the horror genre and favorably compares Carnival of Souls with The Night of the Living Dead. His discussion of the production is both informative and entertaining.

[Note: He does give the viewer one small nugget of false information. It was not released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was released in 1960.]

Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City – (26:00)

This 1966 documentary about the Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City (where the most iconic scenes in the film were shot) was created by Ed Yates for a Salt Lake City television broadcast (KCPX-TV). It presents the rather sad story behind the spooky pavilion seen in Carnival of Souls. It is one of the highlights of this supplemental package (even if the image and sound quality is lacking).

 The Centron Corporation:

Herk Harvey and John Clifford were both working at this industrial film company (which was based in Lawrence, Kansas) when Carnival of Souls went into production. This collection provides a glimpse at some of these industrial films, which provide a kind of context for the production of Carnival of Souls.

The following clips are included:

 The Centron Corporation: Historical Essay – (09:57)

This audial history of the Centron Corporation originally appeared in Ken Smith’s Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945-1979. Dana Gould lends his voice to the text, which turns this informative excerpt into an effective video essay.

Centron Commercial (1967) – (02:13)

Rebound (1954) – (21:15)

Star 34 (1954) – (12:37)

To Touch a Child (1966) – (12:01)

Case History of a Sales Meeting (1963) – (05:32)

Signals: Read’em or Weep (1982) – (05:24)

Theatrical Trailer – (02:17)

The campy theatrical trailer used to market Carnival of Souls doesn’t do the film justice, but it does provide an interesting look at how the film was positioned upon its original release.

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Final Words:

Carnival of Souls is one of those cult films that divides audiences. Those that love these quirky little B-movies will agree that Criterion has provided them with a spectacular Blu-ray release that does the film justice. Others will argue that the film has received a better release than it really deserves. Either way, it is difficult to argue against the quality of this incredible disc.

Review by: Devon Powell

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