Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Remake Without Soul

"Wes Craven Presents" have never been three words I’ve looked forward to hearing. The product it generally implies is, well...

Sometimes starring Marc Blucas.

In other words, it’s rarely a good thing for even the catchiest of titles (you know, like, um...They) to be produced by horror’s most famous former college professor. With that in mind, I headed into 1998’s Carnival of Souls with a bar lower than the required height for the kiddie coaster.

Let’s see if it helped.

Quick Plot: Young Alex walks into her kitchen to the pleasant sight of Larry Miller raping her mother. Before you can say Final Destination 5, he snaps her neck and snaps us into the present, where Alex (Bobbie Philips) has grown into a pretty but world weary bar owner co-managing a seaside dive with her younger sister, played by an oddly stable Shawnee Smith. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Saw's first lady, but there's something very off about seeing her playing normal.

Alex has bigger problems than a dull little sister, primarily the fact that mom-killer (and apparently, child molester) Larry Miller has been released from his lifetime prison sentence. So, apparently, have a bunch of demons and a lot of very menacing water, be it in a Final Destination 4-esque car wash-gone-wrong sequence or an aggressive bathtub. Are these simple daydreams haunting an emotionally scarred Alex, or is there evil afoot in comically oversized floppy red shoes?

Wes Craven Presents: Carnival of Souls is one of the titles that often shows up on Worst Remakes of All Time lists. While it’s no It’s Alive 2009, it’s easy to see why some viewers would be so offended by this film. The original is a verifiable cult classic, an eerie little tale panned in its time and rediscovered in the public domain as one of the era’s very best ghost stories. This version, directed by Adam Grossman and Ian Kressner, is far from the worst horror output of the ‘90s, but in comparison to the rich imagery of Herk Harvey’s film, it suffers quite fiercely.

The movie’s largest issue is the hardest to conquer: it’s boring. Yes, we get Shawnee Smith warbling through a tune. Indeed, we get a character actor generally known for comedy going all out as a pedophile carnival clown with a pageboy wig. Sure, these things are special in their own odd way. But that doesn’t a not dull film make.

Running at just 90 minutes, Carnival of Souls simply takes forever. The beats are repetitive, and sadly there are only so many ‘water! Bad! It’s a dream! Water! Bad!’ cycles a viewer can suffer through before calling it a day.

Or just a bad movie.

High Points
Well, this happens a lot:

Low Points
There’s a very specific moment where Carnival of Souls lost whatever mild interest it had generated. In one of her umpteenth fantasy/dream/water sequences, Alex is haunted by a red balloon that appears out of nowhere. She carefully walks toward it, clearly leading us to a jump of some moment. And she jumps. And THEN Larry Miller’s face appears on the balloon to do some taunting.

Notice a problem?

It’s easy enough to set up a jump scare. Lower the music. Have a character walk slowly. Focus on an object/door/box/noun of some sort that will reveal a minor menace. REVEAL the menace, and we and said character will presumably jump. Have character jump and THEN reveal menace, well, that’s something you only get when Wes Craven is presenting.

Lessons Learned
It is possible to possess stunning green eyes up until the age of five or six, only to see them turn a pleasant if plain brown once you reach your mid-20s

Demon thingies rarely wear clothing, but they do enjoy a hearty dinner and hydration

Look, It’s…
John Sears! Fraternity president/casual date rapist/homophobic bigot/sworn nemesis of Steve Sanders John Sears! Um, he was on Beverly Hills 90210, and I tend to should “John Sears!” whenever he pops up in another late ‘90s horror movie (of which there are quite a few). Also, he apparently directed the much maligned Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, so make of all of these things whatever you will.

Carnival of Souls isn’t the worst thing streaming on Netflix right now, but there’s very little reason to test that theory. I suppose Larry Miller clown fetishists or remake completists will give it a go, but be aware that this is a slog. Not a They slog, but dull time nonetheless.


  1. There are certain directors as you proved here which should never have a "Presents" heading as for every Francis Ford Coppola or Quentin Tarantino Presents, there is a Wes Craven or even worse Eli Roth (who seems to be constantly under the impression he's more influential than he is) presents which are essentially a handy way of knowing what films to avoid.

  2. Very true. Guillermo del Toro has a decent track record (although Mama ultimately failed me) but Roth and Craven need better glasses when it comes to script reading.

  3. I remember reading an interview with Candace Hillgoss where she talks about getting roped into showing up at the 'premiere' of this mess (do movies like this actually have premieres?)... and how horribly disappointed she was.
    Baiting Candace like that is enough to keep me away.

    Oh, yeah, and Eli Roth is a sack of crap. I'll jump at any excuse to say that. Wes Craven at least made a couple of movies I liked.

  4. That is tragic! Now I REALLY hate this movie!

    And regarding Roth, I wasn't a Cabin Fever or Hostel fan, but I did adore Hostel 2. It was almost like he actually listened to the complaints about the first one and actively tried to address them in the sequel.

  5. I rented this thing on VHS years ago because I was (and am) such a fan of the original. I cannot express how much I hated the remake at the time, but I'm sure I did not get past the halfway mark before ejecting it and returning it -- un-rewound -- to the video store. A sad, frustrating day.

  6. I like that you refer to it as a 'thing.' It's really not much more.

  7. I do regret not rewinding the tape, though. That was rude.


    Seriously. You know that means you're going to hell, right? I mean, not the last level with Brutus and Hitler and Judas or anything, but still...you're going to be in that awful waiting room with the broken air conditioner and woman with screaming children picking their noses FOREVER.