Review Date: May 10, 2000
Released by: Criterion
Release date: 5/16/2000
Region 1, NTSC
Full frame 1.33:1
Criterion to the rescue!!! They've done the film justice and released it in a special edition 2 disc DVD set that is packed with extras. Lets take a look at the set.
The film begins with two cars at a stop light preparing for a drag race. One car is full of boys and the other is full of girls. When the light turns green the begin a drag race. The race eventually leads both cars to a narrow bridge where the car full of girls is bumped accidentally and falls into the river below. As the river is being dragged to find the car one of the girls, Mary Henry (Candance Hilligoss), stumbles out of the river. She appears to be the only survivor from the accident.
Mary quickly leaves town and heads to her new job as a Church organist in Salt Lake City. On the way she passes a run-down pavilion on the outskirts of the Salt Lake. After beginning to settle in her new home she begins to see a mysterious figure (Director Herk Harvey) that begins to show up around every corner. Mary begins to lose her grip on reality and is drawn to the run-down pavilion to confront the mysterious man and ultimately find out the truth about herself.
I've seen Carnival of Souls numerous times in the past on late night movie presentations. The visual quality was generally poor but I've always enjoyed the movie immensely. At first the movie appears to be a bit boring, but after a few viewings you begin to appreciate it for what it is. It's a cult classic and rightly so. It's impressive to see a movie made for such a small amount of money that becomes a cult classic. Candace Hilligoss does a wonderful job playing the role of Mary Henry - she's quite convincing as the anti-social girl who begins to lose her grip on reality. Director Herk Harvey also did a wonderful job playing the role of the mysterious figure haunting Mary. He is quite creepy and manages to remain so without uttering a single word of dialogue (Herk explains in the commentary was the main reason he did this part was because they couldn't afford to hire someone else to play it). But it's not just the characters that make it a good movie - the creepy organ filled musical score is quite effective at helping us appreciate what Mary is going through as she begins to come in and out of reality. Lets not forget the ending either, which I'll keep my mouth shut about for those who haven't seen it.
If you haven't seen Carnival of Souls now is a great chance. Criterion delivers the goods here presenting you with both the theatrical version and the extended director's cut that is about 4 minutes longer. Most will prefer the extended director's cut as it is what Director Herk Harvey wanted you to see all along. The original distributor took it upon themselves to cut the film to bring the running time down so it could be shown at double features. If you haven't seen Carnival of Souls I highly recommend it. Gore fiends won't be satisfied with it but if you want to watch a creepy movie with your girlfriend or family, Carnival is the perfect pick.
Criterion did a superb job on the transfer of Carnival of Souls. It's shown in its original full frame ratio of 1.33:1. Both the theatrical cut and extended cut use the same transfer. There are numerous nicks and other blemishes that appear throughout the film, but this is certainly the best presentation of Carnival of Souls that I've ever seen, which includes the old laserdisc released by Image Entertainment many years ago. Black and whites were solid throughout the film. The image was extremely crisp and clear. Excellent job by Criterion on this one.
Presented in it's original Mono soundtrack Carnival of Souls sounds quite good. Audio was crisp and clear with no distortion heard.
This disc is packed with extras. It's a 2 disc set, though I think they could've gotten away with just a single disc if they made use of DVD's "branching" technology which allows additional footage to be inserted into the film at any point during the presentation, or you have the option of not showing the additional footage. Other DVD's that have used this are Independence Day and The Abyss. Given Criterion is a small studio it's not very surprising that they opted for the 2 disc treatment instead. I'm sure implemented the "branching" technology is quite expensive and Criterion doesn't have the resources that a studio like Fox has. This certainly isn't going to effect my grading, but I have to find SOMETHING to complain about, don't I?
First up is the commentary track by screenwriter John Clifford and late director Herk Harvey. This track is on the extended cut of the film (disc two). It's scene specific so there are long periods during the film where there is no commentary at all. They both gave lots of information about the filming of Carnival of Souls and their thoughts about other aspects of the film, like how they were ripped off by the distributor when Carnival was first released. They were both glad of the cult status that Carnival has received, and they seemed proud of what they created. I read this track was recorded back in 1989, so it seems that it was created before commentary tracks became popular. I sort of wish this track was a bit more personal, but instead they stuck mostly to facts on the film. It was still fairly enjoyable but it's the type of track you're only going to listen to once.
Disc one contains a 30 minute documentary titled "The Movie That Wouldn't Die". It was made in in celebration of the 1989 re-release. It contains interviews with Director Herk Harvey, Writer John Clifford, Actors Candace Hilligoss and Sidney Berger. It also contains segments from the 1989 reunion of the cast and crew.
Disc one also contains 45 minutes of never-before-seen outtakes accompanied by Gene Moore's organ score, a theatrical trailer, an illustrated history of the Saltair resort in Salt Lake City and The Carnival Tour: a video update on the film's locations and what they look like today.
Disc two contains the extended cut of the film, audio commentary mentioned earlier, an hour of excerpts from films made by the Centron Corporation (the company that employed Harvey and Clifford), an essay on the history of Centron, printed interviews with Harvey, Clifford and star Candance Hilligoss.
I think the highlight on the extras is the 30 minute documentary, "The Movie That Wouldn't Die" and the audio commentary. However, Director Herk Harvey repeats most of the same information in the documentary that you hear in the commentary. It's still nice to see the cast and crew together and get all the information about the 1989 re-release as well.
Great movie that deserves the treatment is got - Criterion. No more needs to be said - good visual, good audio, good extras and a steal at $39.95. Back in the laserdisc days I would've payed over $100.00 for such a delivery, but fortunately with DVD prices have come down significantly which allows most people to buy this film. If you're a fan of the film then don't wait - go buy this DVD at once. Everyone else may want to view the film first to verify they like it, but if you do be sure to get this Criterion DVD as it's the definitive version of Carnival of Souls.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A
Supplements - A-
- Running time - Thertrical version - 1 hour 18 minutes
- Running time - Extended Director's Cut - 1 hour 23 minutes
- Not Rated
- 2 Discs
- Chapter stops
- English Dolby Mono
- English subtitles
- The Movie That Wouldn't Die documentary
- 45 minutes of rare outtakes accompanied by Gene Moore's organ score
- Theatrical trailer (available in the downloads section)
- An illustrated history of the Saltair resort in Salt Lake City
- The Carnival Tour: a video update on the film's locations
- Commentary with Director Herk Harvey and Writer John Clifford
- One hour of excerpts from films made by the Centron Corporation. an industrial film company based in Lawrence, Kansas that employed Harvey and Clifford for over 30 years.
- An essay on the history of Centron from Ken Smith's Mental Hygiene
- Printed interviews with Harvey, Clifford, and star Candace Hilligoss, illustrated with vintage photos and memorabilia