Carnival of Souls (Rhino)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

After riding around with some friends. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) soon finds herself across from some young men, who want to race it seems. At first the race is more of a flirting session, but soon engines burn and the two cars are flat out tearing up the road. But the race soon turns serious, when Mary’s car swerves a little too much and ends up tanked in a river. The chance of survivors is slim as the car sinks, so rescue efforts appear to be futile in the end. But soon, Mary surfaces in the river and walks away from the wreck, which amazes all those who bear witness to the event. Mary decides she needs some new surroundings, so she takes a position in a new town, where she hopes to leave the wreck behind her forever. Her new works is within a church, where she plays the organ, even though she isn’t too religious. Her new life seems to be normal enough, until she begins to see a strange phantom, which scares her a lot and she can’t seem to escape. What does this phantom figure want and will it ever leave her alone, or does Mary hold the truth to what it has come for?

Although it does stand as a “B” movie in most respects, Carnival of Souls is an excellent picture and overcomes its low budget roots. The film was a very low budget production with high aspirations, some of which turned out very well. I love the visuals found within the movie and am shocked it was made with such a low budget, because it seems so rich and complex. The frills might be low at all times, but the visuals look terrific and the atmosphere is excellent as well. And in a supernatural kind of movie like Carnival of Souls, atmosphere and visuals are crucial, without question. A number of scenes prove to be memorable, including a few that you’ll still be thinking about long after the final credits. The special effects might lack a little and the low budget does show at times, but in the end, this is a superb film that elevates above the limited resources the filmmakers had. So how does it measure up to the other versions out there? The image is not too bad, but pales when compared to Criterion’s disc and of course, no supplements are found on this edition. I think diehard fans will want Criterion’s dual disc edition, but for those looking for a low price alternative, this Rhino version should suffice.

The director here was Herk Harvey, who made his debut with this movie and also his final film. I think it is a shame we couldn’t have seen more from Harvey, but what a film he did make as his only cinematic credit. Harvey and his crew worked with a low budget, so they used rather simple tricks to enhance the film and accomplish effective ends. This means creative use of cameras, lights, and other technical devices, since they couldn’t afford much in terms of special effects. The film’s atmosphere is downright eerie from start to finish, so I have to say, Harvey and his team succeeded on all fronts with this one. A few times you can see where more cash would have helped, but overall Harvey was able to overcome his economic limits with ease. At the head of the cast is Candace Hilligoss (Curse of the Living Corpse), who is excellent as Mary, our lead performer. This was her debut in front of the cameras, but she brings her character to life very well in the end. The cast also includes Art Ellison (Paper Moon), Sidney Berger (Carnival of Souls (1998)), Frances Feist, Stan Levitt (In Cold Blood), and even Harvey himself shows up.

Video: How does it look?

Carnival of Souls is presented in a full frame transfer, as intended. As the print used here hasn’t been restored, it shows frequent grain, marks, and other defects, though it never looks too bad. Still, those who have seen Criterion’s restored version will be disappointed, as the print has a lot more debris & damage in this release. The contrast is solid, but remains a little too light, so blacks aren’t as sharp and refined as they should be. But even with a soft picture, this is still watchable and for the price, represents a decent bargain.

Audio: How does it sound?

This flick doesn’t really need a dynamic audio track, but the included mono version manages to provide a solid and enjoyable mix. The music and sound effects are well crafted here, adding a lot to the eerie atmosphere,so it was important they come across well and thankfully, they’re in solid form here. The music also never overpowers the other elements, which means the sound effects come through with clarity and separation. I didn’t find much in terms of harshness with this track either, and the usual mono hiss is minimal. The dialogue is clean and crisp at all times, with no problems at all to hinder the vocals.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc contains no bonus materials.

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