I’m reminded of the scene in The Blob when, seated in a vintage movie theatre, a nonchalant cinema audience – all ra-ra skirts and pomaded hair – chuckle away and snarf popcorn as a terrified woman upon screen is strangled by multiple assailants. Why, someone or something oughta teach these teenagers a lesson in taking cinema for granted, give them a boot up the behind…or meld their peach-fuzz flesh into a delinquent pot of alien strawberry preserve, as the evening turns out.

Recording Carnival of Souls at Cornerhouse

William Castle knew how to plot a trick or two, that commensurate showman-come-glorious-fraud who mastered the art of the cinema gimmick and knew that the audience were complicit in willing a hoodwink to unfold. His work included attaching electrodes to seats that zapped patrons for The Tingler (1959) and flying skeletons on wires above the audience for House on Haunted Hill (1959), to hiring jobbing actresses to dress as nurses should anyone have a heart-attack or collapse from fright during his otherwise schlocky fare.

The sensation of having to be there, at a given venue or site, and experience an unreplicable moment as part of a group – rather than at home within reach of a three-litre wine box – is one that is currently driving both event cinema but also activities across multiple disciplines, whether it’s queuing to view performance artists sit on bidets to poop crayons or be chased, Punchdrunk-stylee, through art-designed labyrinths with million pound budgets. What more can be done? Have we seen it all? Perhaps.

Recording Carnival of Souls at CornerhouseWhen I was approached to consider means of immersive cinema that might be especially sympathetic to the needs and experience of audiences affected by disabilities, instead of thinking what I might add, I considered what I might remove. Such as the film itself.

The result is a new, unique adaptation of director Herk Harvey’s 1962 experimental horror film oddity, Carnival of Souls, which has been stripped and adapted to become an audio-only experience inside a darkened cinema, inspired by classic adventure radio serials and sensory deprivation methods.

Commissioned by Film Hub North West Central with an advisory group of blind and partially-sighted audience members but suitable for all, the broadcast is relayed across wireless headsets incorporating binaural audio – a technique that creates the illusion of the action happening to and around the listener, forming a sense of intimate proximity. From approaching footsteps to whispered breath, the audience will be fully immersed in the unfolding drama.

Recording Carnival of Souls at Cornerhouse

Binaural audio is a specialised method of recording sound that creates a 3D sensation for the listener of being physically present at the point of origin, and can also be described as a form of audio ventriloquism. Usually, stereo sound is perceived by the listener as taking place ‘inside’ the head, as if a line were drawn between left and right ears. Binaural sound is discerned ‘outside’ the head, projected into physical space, with additional properties of direction, distance and range. The result is a heightened, personalised intimacy, capable of triggering autonomous sensory meridian response – a physical, reflexive reaction, ranging from goosebumps and shivers to increased heart rate and twitching.

The story follows Mary Henry, the sole survivor of a horrific car accident who begins a new life in a sleepy Utah town, home to a derelict carnival and dancehall. Still struggling in the aftermath of her accident, she is haunted by an enigmatic figure that slips inside her dreams and calls her to the ruins of the former pleasure ground – about which the local Mormon congregation know more than they choose to reveal.

Recording Carnival of Souls at CornerhouseIt features the voices of Amanda Hennessy with musician Baby Dee who has collaborated with Mark Almond, Will Oldham, Andrew W. K, Antony Hegarty and Matt Sweeney. Additional cast includes Henrietta Fusi, Daniel Wallace, Matt Aistrup, Kate McCabe and Len Horsey. With our première on February 27 within Cornerhouse Cinema 1 fast approaching sell-out, we have two further dates in the diary at the official opening weekend of HOME before embarking upon a nationwide tour.

Come, close your eyes, and fire up the projector that lives in your brain. It’s called the imagination.

By Bren O’Callaghan

Images by Chris Payne


Tickets for for February 27, 2015 première at Cornerhouse: http://www.cornerhouse.org/film/film-events/carnival-of-souls (limited availability)

Tickets for Sat 23 and Sun 24 May, 2015 at HOME launch weekend: http://homemcr.org/film/carnival-souls/