. . .to write anything new right now, so here's this from a thousand years ago.
Transcript of Audio Interview by Bill Reed, conducted in 1982 prior to the death of cult film Carnival of Souls director, Herk Harvey.
Q. Could you tell me a little bit about your professional background.
A: Before I went to work for Centron (a large, Lawrence, Kansas-based producer of Industrial films), I was teaching in the theater department at University of Kansas and acted once in a while for Centron, I started out in the navy and was studying chemical engineering. But when I got out I decided that wasn't for me and so I went into theater. I went to University of Kansas and got a BS and an MA, and then I went to the University of Colorado for a doctorate in theater. I made it through summer school and then I decided to go back to Kansas and work for Centron in 1951. I eventually ended up being the director of it. We make industrial and educational films. Complete production facilities. Everything but the lab.
Q. Being so involved with industrial films, what prompted you to make 'Carnival.?
A: I'd wanted to make a commercial theatrical film for quite some time. And when I was on vacation in '61 I saw the Great Salt Lake Pavilion, Saltair. I took a picture of it and took it back to John Clifford who was and still is a writer at Centron, and told him I thought it was a perfect location. I devised the idea, he wrote it (it was in the spring of that year), We did a horror film because we figured it the was easiest way to gain dramatic values with our low budget. Either that or a historical thing.
Q. Was there any film out there at the time that inspired you to make your own film?
A. I don't like the current trend of hacksaw murders and chainsaw murders.. ,the gross things, I believe that horror is best obtained when something is happening that you couldn't possibly have control over, as opposed to brutality where someone is physically attacking somebody else.
Q. How did you get investors interested?
A: We had some backers here in Lawrence and some of the money was mine. The $100,000 it was supposed to cost was publicity. It actually cost 17-5.
Q. Where did you find John Clifford?
A: John Clifford was a gag writer out in Hollywood right after the war, and then he became an English teacher, a journalist and then came to work at Centron.
Q. Was everyone else local?
A: The only person behind or in front of the camera who wasn't from the immediate area or Centron was Candace Hilligoss, Everyone else was local. A friend of mine was going back to New York and I told him to find me an actress. I let him use his own judgment. Anyway, she gets off the plane and (look at her and said to myself, "Oh my God, this will never do," She looked very dowdy, appeared to have very little personality. So I just said "See you in the morning." I spent the whole night thinking how am ( going to get rid of this woman? But the next morning we were ready to shoot, and I saw her and I said, "This can't be." There was a complete transformation and she was just fine.
Q. How did you go about getting it distributed?
A: After we'd finished we took it to ten different organizations on the east and west coasts and were turned down by all of them. None of them thought it was gory enough for the kind of film it was and all turned us down. It was through the lab in California that developed the film that I found Ken Herts of Herts-Lion. They were a new outfit and had just purchased about six films from a group down in Texas. And then they bought a Lon Chaney film that they put on the bill with Carnival of Souls.
But after they got the film they started cutting this and this and that. Even that early on, I realized I'd made a mistake and shouldn't have stayed with them. But I wanted the money back, and so I did. Their original cut was 95 minute which is just a little too long. The 91 minute cut is the best one, but what Herts-Lion did was 80 minutes which loses a lot.
Q. How was your relationship with them?
A: At first though everything else seemed to be working fine. They were communicating with us, talking about future progress, and then the next thing I heard was that Ken Herts had skipped the country. And that was that. . . that was the last I heard of him. We instituted legal action, but never could even find him. All that happened was that eventually we regained legal control of the film.
Q. How long have you been aware of the film's cult status?
A: A few years ago a guy from Cinemafantastique came all the way out here to do an interview with me, but as far as I know it was never printed. I am aware of a following for the film. So is John Clifford, We have articles from all around the concerning the film but not too much from this country. I understand it has a very big following in Scandinavia (Sweden) because of their preoccupation with death. Things have been written about it there that, frankly, I'd never thought of and still am not quite sure I understand.
Q. How about more recent reactions?
A: Last year they showed the film at the Bleecker Street Cinema in New York for a week. I was able to patch together a 35mm print for them. That was literally the only time we ever made any money off the film. It played by itself, but I'm not aware of whether it was reviewed or not. But they wrote back to say it was very successful. We also hear that it's very successful on the college circuit, but those are clandestine prints. We now own complete rights to the film. Some of the reviewers of Night of the Living Dead compared it to Carnival of Souls, said it was similar in content. but beyond the fact that they're both low-budget films done with people from the community I don't really see the similarities. I liked the film a lot.
A: Again, the reason we had trouble getting a distributor was that they said it was an "art" film and didn't have much use for it. I don't call Carnival a horror film but a fantasy film.
Q. Who are some of your influences?
A: The filmmaker I'd most have liked to please would have been Felllni. Not necessarily that he's my favorite director, .but his movies were "dimensional" films about the loss of connection with reality (especially Juliet of the Spirits)... they were very interesting to me.
Q. After Carnival, did you think about doing other films?
A. We were so disappointed in the distribution of Carnival that we never made another theatrical film, We just said "why fight ' ' Plus we were very busy at Centron. But we have over the years tried to develop some scripts for backer interest. We got a half-dozen sitting here just crying out, "Okay, when do we go?" One is called "Flannagan's Smoke" which is a comedy; another is called "Windwagon on the Western Sailing Wagons." I sent a script of it to Disney and they sent it back saying that they were in the middle of a movie on the same subject, but it turned out to be a cartoon short, We have a couple of fantasy projects too that, like Carnival, delve into dimensional non- reality, I'm not really interested in the occult, though, [only] a little fascinated still, The history of it through the centuries is wry interesting. James Gunn who lives here wrote on the "shows" I was talking about that we're developing. "The Reluctant Witch." He wrote the sci-story "The Immortal." He teaches at the University. Also he's prominent at documenting the history of sci-fi writing.
Q. What kinds of letters do you receive about Carnival?
A: I'm aware that Carnival is a cult film. We get a lot of letters from people who've searched us out. Most of them are from people interested in how the film was made rather than the subject matter itself. We're planning to put the film back in circulation soon. We're especially interested in getting a good 16mm print available to universities. If we find any interest, we'll also work on getting a 35mm print available.
Q. Tell me little more about the logistics of the making of the film.
A. We had a five-man crew. Our sound man had never made a movie before. He'd only been a sound recordist. Our camera man had a really good feel for black and white. Maurice Prather; he worked for Centron. First we shot here in Lawrence for about four days. Then we went to Saltair. I'd written the governor previously and he said they'd co-operate, which they really did, because when I got to Salt Lake they just gave me the key and said go out and enjoy it. When we got there, we found this guy who was doing a survey of the pilings to see if they could rebuild the place. The decorations for the finale were already there when we got there, which was lucky. And it was a great break when we discovered that the electricity was still on and we could shoot at night which made for wry interesting effects.
Q. How about your own role on the screen?
A: I played the part of "The Man," and one night I was just sitting out there and some school kid came walking by and I had my make-up on.
Q. What don't you like about the film?
A: I think the sound effects are not very good. The make-up was improvised. There was not a make-up person. I devised it out of make-up and starch. I wanted it too look like the salt air had made them look the way they did. A: I felt hampered by the budgetary limitations but it was also a challenge. I was really thrilled just to be getting it shot. At my age now, I probably wouldn't react quite that way. Now I'd say to myself, we can't so that. can't do that... We didn't know that couldn't be done, so we did it.
Q. Tell me about early showings of the film.
A. The premiere in Lawrence was a big deal, spotlight out in front, etc. We know that Carnival was shown throughout all of Europe and also Brazil and Argentina and Venezuela. The good reviews were initially really heartening. I don't know why the British reviews stated that the film was released by American-International. I have no idea.
Q. Are there any recent films you like?
A. I like The Howling very much. I didn't think I'd like The Watcher in the Woods, but enjoyed it very much.
Q. Tell me a little about the music.
A: The organist was named Moore and was a sound man for Calvin Productions in Kansas City. He scored it directly by watching the film like in the old days. We would have still done it that way even if we'd had more money.
Q. Have you kept up with your cast?
A: I only saw Candace once after the making of the film, in an off-Broadway play in New York.
Q. You've also done some local theater, haven't you?
A: "Wabash Winning Streak," a play that Clifford and I did here in Lawrence. It takes place in Las Vegas and has a cast of nine. A comedy. It played for four days and was given a very nice reception. It would be ideal for dinner theater.
Q. How about your job with Centron?
A. I've directed 400 to 500 films for Centron. Some of them I'm very proud of. We bring in professional actors for them. I've worked recently with Jesse White, Rowan and Martin; Ricardo Montalban does the narration for a film I've just completed. Films that are used for business meetings, stockholders meetings. We've made films all over Europe. I've been to the tip of South America, Alaska, the Far East, Korea, Sometimes the clients tell us what they want, we map it out, and we meet somewhere in the middle. Other times they give us an outline and turn us loose, Other times they tell us exactly what they want and we deliver. It all depends.
Q. I often wondered why the man who did Carnival of Souls never made another movie. I now can see that he did.
A: I have wondered that myself... that is, about a theatrical movie... especially when I'm off somewhere in the wilds of South America. I think anyone who can put something like Raiders of the Lost Ark together. well, that's masterful filmmaking. Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Altered States; films where fantasy and sci-fi are intermixed