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."

TOM WEAVER: What were your first impressions of the new Carnival of Souls?

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.

Q: Do you happen to know how much Craven had to do with it?

CANDACE: It doesn't matter. It's under his umbrella, and he's got his name pasted all over it.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: Did any part of it scare you? It left me completely unfazed.

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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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 out.

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 pearls were.

Q: 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 genre!

Q: 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.

CANDACE: 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 [1990], and even Sole Survivor [1982]. 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 ...

Q: 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!

Q: 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!"

Q: 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 ...

Q: 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?"

Q: 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 what happens?

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?

Q: 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!

Q: Were 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.

Q: I'm 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.

Q: It put me in the mood to start goin' to sleep and wakin' up.

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.

Q: And 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 & Co.

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