By TOM WEAVER
The 1962 version of Carnival of Souls has long
been acclaimed as one of horror cinema's pioneering, low-budget
efforts. A horror story with an Ambrose Bierce twist,
the starkly photographed black and white film featured
Candace Hilligoss as the young heroine wandering a twilight
world between life and death. Hilligoss had long wanted
to get a sequel off the ground and, after shopping the
concept around, found her ideas pirated by shady producers
operating under the auspices of sleazemeister Wes Craven.
The resultant film languished on the shelf for nearly
two years before slinking onto the video market virtually
unnoticed. In it, actress Bobbie Phillips (Showgirls)
takes on what was, ostensibly, Candace's original role,
while standup comic Larry Miller appears as a sadistic
clown. As a child, Phillips' character watches as Miller
murders her mother. Upon his release from prison years
later, he returns to terrorize her. The producers have
thoroughly "Cravenized" the original plot, tossing in
elements of rape and brutality, as well as incongruous
creatures that Candace aptly describes as "pink fetuses
in bubble gum body suits!" In the following conversation,
she makes plain her opinion of this odious "remake."
What were your first impressions of the new Carnival
CANDACE HILLIGOSS: Well, that it had nothing
to do with my Carnival of Souls, and I'm sorry they
used the title because they've ruined the title of our
original film. Their remake says in the opening credits,
"A Film by Adam Grossman." I don't know who he is, but
the audience should now know that if they ever see "A
Film by Adam Grossman" on any movie, it should be a
cue to run for the nearest exit! He wrote and directed
it. And Wes Craven, I think, should be hung by his thumbs
at Hollywood and Vine for movie fans to stone, because
he's so devastated the intent of the original.
Do you happen to know how much Craven had to do with
CANDACE: It doesn't matter. It's under his umbrella,
and he's got his name pasted all over it.
Plot-wise, it really is more like one of his typical
movies than it is like your Carnival of Souls.
CANDACE: Yes, his signature crap is written
all over it, too. They keep saying that [leading lady]
Bobbie Phillips is "from Showgirls," a fact which
I would hide, rather than play up! I did see Showgirls,
but I couldn't remember which nude she was. I didn't
recognize her, maybe because she now has clothes on.
In fairness to her, I want to say that I thought she,
and some of the other actors. were a lot better than
this new Carnival of Souls.
CANDACE: Yes, and it's a shame that (with one
clinker like Showgirls in her career) she now she gets
thrown another clinker. It could set her career back
four or five years. These are the kind of things that
ruin actors who aren't big enough stars to override
bad movies. She should have gotten in something good
before she got cursed with this one.
Did any part of it scare you? It left me completely
CANDACE: I know exactly what you mean. Take
for example the lost souls that are meant to spook the
audience and the heroine. Do we blame Craven or director
Grossman for this idiotic portrayal of the lost souls,
giant fetuses that looked as if they were covered in
pink bubble gum, having epileptic seizures, were so
silly. The only thing that scared me was the fact that
these people who made this movie thought that this would
sell [laughs]! That was the most frightening part of
the whole thing.
It's come out on home video, but they originally planned
to put it out theatrically, correct?
CANDACE: Of course. When no one wants to release
a movie, when no one is willing to take a movie off
your hands or give you a distribution deal, you're forced
to go direct to video to get any money back.
How long ago was it made?
CANDACE: It was made the summer before last,
the summer of '97. So it took almost two years to come
Q: Did they have the nerve
to take anything at all from your treatment?
CANDACE: No, because they were too stupid. It
shows how dumb they were -- I threw my pearls before
swine here. And they were too stupid to know what the
They had no idea why the first picture worked. That
was the most aggravating thing about it.
CANDACE: They didn't understand, they tried
to do just a "logical" horror-murder story, and you
can tell that they just didn't get why the first one
worked. They weren't even on the same level. It was
almost as if they actually weren't even in the same
It reminded me more of Cape Fear, with horrific
"dream scenes" thrown in, than it did of your Carnival.
If it had had a different title, I'd have watched it
for an hour before your Carnival crossed my mind.
A friend of mine told me that the ripoffs of Carnival
that he's seen were better done than the remake. The
one with Zohra Lampert, for instance [Let's Scare
Jessica to Death, 1971], and Jacob's Ladder
, and even Sole Survivor . In the
new Carnival, their idea of a brilliant opening
was to have a little girl watching a clown [Larry Miller]
rape and batter her mother, and then twist and break
the mother's neck. I thought, "This is the kind of movie
that I would pay them not to let me in the theater."
I would give them eight dollars not to allow me inside,
because the agony of sitting through this crap is so
great that it would be worth eight dollars to me to
be permitted to stay far, far away!
The main character, the girl Bobbie Phillips played,
didn't have the right quality for this new story.
CANDACE: It was strange how they tried to make
her a real '90s girl: She's a heavy smoker, she says
the F word and she runs a beer joint, setting up drinks
for old geezers. That's their idea of a '90s woman.
She's the grown-up version of the little girl we saw
in the first scene, the girl whose mother was murdered
by the clown. Years later, the clown comes back and
he turns up in the back seat of Bobbie Phillips' car
and shoves a gun down her throat. Then he makes her
drive, and the car goes over the pier and crashes into
the river. All of a sudden she wakes up in her bathtub
Giving the audience the indication that the scene in
the car was all a dream.
CANDACE: Yeah! Then she goes into the longest
car wash that I've ever been through [laughs], it went
on forever and ever, and the car fills with water. It
fills up and fills up until her face is shoved against
the roof, then suddenly she's back on land again. I
thought, "Well, what happened to the truck? Did something
get left on the cutting room floor?" Then we flash back
-- or maybe forward? -- to a scene where she's at the
carnival, but she's still driving the truck and it's
in tiptop condition after both of them "drowned" in
the car wash!
After a while, I wasn't even trying to make sense out
of it any more. In your version, you were a girl that
strange things were happening to. In this version, she
was just a girl who was having nightmares.
CANDACE: What I always think is a "cheap shock"
is, every time you put your heroine in trouble and don't
know how to get her out of it, have the alarm clock
ring and have her wake up in bed. And the audience goes,
"Oh, by golly, it was just a nightmare!"
That lets the screenwriter off the hook every time.
CANDACE: Right -- and that's all they did here,
they got off the hook every time by having her "wake
up" some place else. The thing that made it so bad film-wise,
technically, is this: Not only did they have these odd
"jumps" where the audience has to ask themselves, "Did
it really happen to her, or was it her nightmare?",
but they also intercut flashbacks of her as a child,
with that stupid clown. They were constantly going forward
and back, forward and back ...
Into reality, out of reality ...
CANDACE: And then they're also doing back story
"fill," to let the audience know more about the clown
from the beginning of the movie, the guy who murdered
her mother. In flashbacks, we see how the mother met
the clown and so on and so forth. And remember the love
scene between our heroine, played by Miss Phillips,
and the good-looking young harbormaster [Paul Johansson]?
They go off on his boat, and she wants to get some comfort,
some sympathy from this handsome man. Soon they start
in kissing and so on and so forth ... then, all at
once, it ends up with such hot, heavy panting and tearing
at clothes that you would have thought they were on
the Titanic and were gonna be sinking any second [laughs]!
I thought, "What is the panic? Why?? Who was going to
interrupt them in the middle of the ocean?"
My problem with the new Carnival is that it's
one of these lousy "dream" horror movies, filled with
dream sequences and all kinds of weird stuff. My attitude
is: In a movie where anything can happen -- who cares
CANDACE: That's why the audience loses interest.
The audience was constantly being shown that what she
seemed to be experiencing didn't really happen; every
time she got in trouble, the next thing we knew, she'd
awaken or "land" somewhere else. Like the scene where
she goes to a carnival, and the wranglers come after
her. The audience doesn't have a clue why these strange
people are stalking her and making her run away. I thought,
"Well, at least they're not the fetuses in pink bubble
gum. But why are all the carnival people turning on
her?" Once again, she wakes up in bed, and we just excuse
it as another nightmare. The thing that (to me) was
the real nightmare for the character was having to run
that tavern. Remember how many leaks and floods there
were, and how they had to tramp around in the basement,
and how things in this joint were always running out?
I love the scenes where the tavern ceiling is leaking
because (obviously) a pipe is broken somewhere upstairs,
but instead of fixing the pipe, they just keep fixing
the ceiling. It takes a special kind of stupid to write
stuff like that.
CANDACE: Someone so stupid that that's how they'd
try to fix that leak!
you offered a part, or just the opportunity to be photographed
with the cast?
CANDACE: One of the producers, Peter Soby, called
me up and said, "How would you like to come down for
one day to play a cameo?" Well, after my conversation
with him, he realized I had no intention of coming down.
I wonder what they would have had me play; I might have
been one of those pink fetuses in a bubble gum body
suit [laughs]! What could they have had me play? Some
drunk at the bar that Bobbie Phillips sets up a drink
for? Puh-leeze! I don't know what they had in mind for
me to do.
sooo glad you weren't in it!
CANDACE: Oh, it was so awful. The funhouse scene
looked to me like a description of an LSD nightmare.
She gets a gun and aims at the clown and overkills him
-- and then, as usual, she wakes up again. But, hocus
pocus, she's back at the car wash, only to wake up again
at home. This girl seems to spend a lot of time in bed!
Now suddenly, she's back at the carnival. This is a
cinematic lesson in how to confuse and to annoy an audience
all at the same time.
put me in the mood to start goin' to sleep and wakin'
CANDACE: Well, this is why it got boring. I
lost track of the number of times she got in trouble
and woke up. And as an audience, you no longer knew
what was supposed to be real and what wasn't. So you
no longer cared. Maybe Wes Craven would have done better
to remake one of those Perils of Pauline flicks.
your prediction is that the movie will lose money.
CANDACE: I don't even think they'll make back their
costs. I hope it ends their careers. The producers, I mean.
God forgive the actors; they weren't casting Hamlet that
week, and actors need jobs. So forgive the actors. But the
producers and the writer and the director -- may it end
their careers. That would be a just punishment for trying
to "put one over" on an audience, for having the presumption
to think that their catastrophe was anything like the original,
as directed by Herk Harvey.
Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and
Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie
Makers and many others available from McFarland