RUNNING TIME: 16 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
AVAILABLE TO VIEW BELOW
A widow is weeping by the grave of her beloved when she’s approached by an old lady. She tells her that she and hubby can be together again, but only if she helps her fill her garden with souls…..
We don’t get to review short films quite as much as we used to on HCF, and if we do receive them than our webmistress Bat or David Smith tend to do the honours. But, seeing as I probably enjoy the old – and the really old – stuff more than anybody else on this website [I will never stop saying that The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Haxan, Nosferatu and the first version of The Phantom Of The Opera are essential viewing for any horror fan despite their great age], Bat asked me I would fancied looking at Garden Of Souls. It’s stated as being very much in the style of silent films, and was even partly shot at Fort Lee where some very early movies were shot, while its music score was improvised on a 1913 organ and was written by Peter Kraskinski who specialises in silent film accompaniment. And indeed, the experience of watching it is very much like watching something from around 1920, except that the film is devoid of the scratches, ropy-looking edges and other visual flaws that you tend to find in films of a very great vintage due to print damage, while the acting is a little less over the top than you may expect though still transmitting everything to the viewer without words. The latter was probably a wise decision seeing as it’s that particular aspect of silent films that’s probably the strangest and hardest to get used to for modern viewers, and even I still sometimes can’t help but be distracted by it.
This dark, slightly cautionary tale, told with yellow, green and purple tinting, begins in a churchyard where a young widow visits her husband’s grave. She cries while reading some book about raising the dead. If you really get into them, it’s often amazing how much atmosphere a silent film can have, and this one immediately has a compelling morbid feel. An old lady watches her before going over and offering to fulfill her wish in exchange for filling her “garden of souls”. Of course the widow agrees, and is happy to open her husband’s grave so that she can carry out the old woman’s instruction to bring her “a scrap of his remains”. We don’t see the grave robbing of course – a film from 1920 wouldn’t have shown such a thing in any detail, so it was the correct decision to omit it. The old woman then gets to work in a very witch-like fashion, while the widow dreams of lovely country walks with her husband. And then – well – I’ve given away enough of the story already so just watch the film and find out. It’s really rather creepy and [deliberately] darkly amusing at the same time. And it’s surprising how little often this particular plot element is done in this particular way, even though it’s actually more realistic than how it’s normally handled [I’m deliberately being vague but you’ll see what I mean]. This is followed by just a touch of a moral [again, very appropriate] and a twist ending which may surprise even if most viewers will have seen it several times in many other films. But imagine if Garden Of Souls was the first film to do it?
Objects sometimes turn into other objects, and it’s surprising how well the simple, antique ways of doing the kind of thing that would automatically be done with CG now can still hold up. Karen Lynn is allowed to emote a fair amount without going over the top, and allows you to feel some of her character’s great pain and sorrow right from the beginning so that, as with Pet Sematary, you can partly understand why she does what she does. Betty Roehm Widdoss possesses a subdued cheekiness and cunning as the old lady, and has quite a screen presence. Inter-titles are to the point with just a slight poetic aspect in places [which is also how it should be], while the score not just provides the right backing but tells the story in its own way. I wondered if there were going to be any quotes from classical music like you sometimes get, but fortunately Krasinski doesn’t stoop to this.
I enjoyed Garden Of Souls considerably. A great deal of effort has been made to make it seem like something from the early days of cinema, but I think that it’s a neat little story in its own right, and if you’ve never seen a silent film then it could be a nice gentle way for you to ease yourself in before you start checking out some feature length works. While this could very well be their most ambitious project to date, a quick look at Filmmiracle’s website reveals that they specialise in making short films in the manner of older movies, and when I get some time out from my very busy schedule for HCF, I may very well take a look at them and even review. In the meantime, wait until it’s late, dim or even better turn off the lights, switch off your phone just for just 16 minutes, and take a little trip back to when cinema was in its infancy [yet when the horror genre was already alive and well] with Garden Of Souls.