"I love the dead before they're cold."
~ Alice Cooper ~
The film "Carnival of Souls" doesn't want to take viewers on a non-stop deathtrip...rather it tries to slip a few tabs of Oxy into the beverage for a much...slower...ride.
Quietly creeping on little dead feet.
And in 1962, director Herk Harvey, along with a small cast of part-time dreamers with cash flow resembling an after school special ...somehow pulled it off.
And Larry Sneegas, actor and production manager for the film, played no small part in making sure Herk's vision succeeded. Bearing a delightful resemblance to "...Vacation's" Cousin Eddie...Larry Sneegas was the "go-to" guy when things needed done.
53 years later, "Carnival Of Souls" is still reveling in cult status...being enjoyed by both critics and film-lovers alike.
Larry Sneegas Interview - October 2015
Casey Chambers: I've seen "Carnival Of Souls" more times than I can count. I'm going to touch on a few things, but first I want to ask how you got involved with the film.
Larry Sneegas: Goodness sakes. (laughs) Well, I had been working for Centron which did a lot of educational productions. Films like "Why Study Science?" "How To Become A Better Listener," "Why Be A Doctor?"...that sort of thing. I was involved in all of those productions in various capacities, because I had started there when I was five.
Herk Harvey, the director of "Carnival Of Souls", worked at Centron as well. So, by the time "Carnival Of Souls" came around, we had worked together so long that he just let me help cast the production and find locations.
Most of the film took place in and around Lawrence, Kansas but we did a few scenes in Salt Lake City, Utah. Herk and John Clifford (scriptwriter) were coming back from a meeting in California and saw the Pavilion there in Salt Lake City. They thought it was an interesting place and decided to work it into the movie.
"Carnival Of Souls" Trailer (1962)
Casey Chambers: The opening scene is wonderfully shot. In fact, the entire film feels so odd, yet strangely ordinary at the same time. Like the way black and white dreams often are. How did that opening scene go down?
Larry Sneegas: Well, I found the girls that were in the opening hot rod scene next to us. And kind of a strange thing happened. The day we were going to shoot the bridge scene, the little car didn't show up. So, I had to hurry and find a phone somewhere and found out the guys driving it down had a flat tire. And they lived in Lecompton (KS). I got the tire sized, bought one, drove it out there to'em....and I changed the tire for them just to get the car into that scene.
Meanwhile, people were waiting for their chance to go across the bridge and to watch the whole scene happen. And we had to have licensed people around to watch the destruction of the railing on the bridge...and then of course, its reassembly. We couldn't leave it that way. It really was an active bridge. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: And it was your character's car-window parlay with the girls that set the whole story in motion.
Larry Sneegas: It was all just ad-lib...trying to get the girls to race. They didn't particularly want to, but as the light changed we both sped off. We passed them on a one lane bridge, which was not a good idea.
The original premise was that our bumpers hook. Our back bumper would hook their front bumper...and as we tried to get back on the regular path...it would pull them into the rail and off the bridge. That was how the accident was supposed to have happened.
Casey Chambers: It's a big scene and fun to watch. And the film absolutely has a strange and surreal feel...even before the opening credits. Just eerie. But bumper-hook or Kansas pothole...no doubt, the girls lost the drag race.
Larry Sneegas: Yeah. (laughs) And another thing about that scene was...we had to have two cars that looked alike. The one that actually went off of the bridge into the river didn't even have a motor in it. We didn't want to ruin a car dumping it into the water. Just the shell of one. And luckily it sank. We weren't sure that was gonna happen, 'cause the Kaw River isn't that deep. My guess is...it might be nine feet deep in the very center during high season. It was in the spring. And by golly, it did. It sank. (laughs)
And that was a real good thing too, because theoretically, as the rest of the movie progressed...people were searching for the car the whole time. Like the river was really deep and the current strong enough to carry it off somewhere.
Casey Chambers: You also make another appearance later on in the film.
Larry Sneegas: Yes, in the scene where we run down the steps to go find them and the footsteps run out in the sand and disappear. I went up to the Creative Dance Studio at The University Of Utah and asked if anybody would like to be in a movie. And the whole dance team signed release forms to be dancers in the ballroom of the Pavilion. So, that's how we got the ballroom full of dancers.
Pavilion Ballroom Dance
And the weird thing about it, I had asked the dancers that came out of the ballroom to all dress in black. And they did. But then, I couldn't find a black top. My multicolored sweater looked like a multicolored sweater even in black and white. Which is really kind of sad, but it worked out okay.
Casey Chambers: That whole ballroom scene is a creep dance. Spooky-weird.
Larry Sneegas: Yeah, well one of the reasons is...I climbed to the top of the Pavilion and we shot through the portal on the top of the roof. It was a heckuva climb and there wasn't much up there to hold onto.
I held Reza Badiyi (asst. cinematographer) from falling onto the floor of the place. Did the same thing in a scene where Reza's shooting out the window of an apartment in front of the little white house on 6th street. In fact, a piece of broken glass came out of the window pane above Reza's head. It was coming down on him and I put my hand out and stopped it. It cut my fingers, but it kept him from getting his head cut off. It didn't make it into the movie, but it was interesting.
Casey Chambers: Alright! You're Batman!
Larry Sneegas: (Laughs) Yeah, it was really strange. Oh, and Herk Harvey was also the silent face character who kept haunting Mary (Candace Hilligoss). And every time he appeared, he was encouraging her to come join them...because she was really dead.
Mary (Candace Hilligoss)
In fact, here's an interesting story. I went to New York to cast the lead for the movie and Sidney Berger (actor) met me there because he was from Long Island. I thought I had found someone that sounded and looked the part of a relatively young, attractive girl-next-door type. And we would have cast her, but she didn't want to work on a production outside of New York City.
Then Candace showed up and Sidney thought she was great 'cause she sounded like he sounded...from New York. (laughs) When we picked her up at the airport, Herk was in the front seat with me...and Sidney was in the back seat with Candace. And the two of them were just going on like they'd been neighbors their whole lives.
Herk almost had me stop the car, turn around and take her back, because he didn't want the lead to sound like she was from New York. But Candace was able to cover up the accent really well in the film. I'm not sure what happened to her or where she finished up. I do know she went back to New York.
Casey Chambers: So you went to New York to cast?
Larry Sneegas: Yeah, sure did. Centron was using a New York production house to develop some film from other projects. I took a chunk full of their stuff out to be processed and while there...I helped cast the lead in "Carnival Of Souls".
Casey Chambers: Workin' the pink machine. That's a nice gambit! Now, you mentioned Sidney Berger earlier. He was another good actor in the film. How did he come into the whole thing?
John (Sidney Berger)
Larry Sneegas: Sidney was one of the first actors at KU to get his doctorate. This was when Dr. Goff was still in charge of the department. He was a good actor. Now here's one of the interesting things about that movie and Sidney. When he was staring at Mary in the bathroom through the back corner of the door...the eye he was using was his glass eye. He couldn't even see out of that eye. (laughs) What a deal!
Casey Chambers: That's hilarious! I'll have to go and give the DVD another spin. Do you remember your first time watching the movie with the public?
Larry Sneegas: Yes, it was at The Granada Theater in Lawrence (KS) with a full...almost a full house. It was just a big "thank you" to Lawrence for helping support the movie. Herk did the whole production for $36,000. You can't even do credits for $36,000.
One of the reasons he was able to do that...was some of the main people, like the cinematographer Maurice Prather and Reza Badiyi...agreed to work on the production for points that would be paid back as the movie made money. Herk also put his house up as collateral. His wife objected to that. She didn't care much for the picture at all.
Right after the film was released, Herk sold the picture to a man to release it with a Lon Chaney Jr. picture ("The Devil's Messenger") in hopes of it traveling across the south on the drive-in circuit and making some money. It didn't work.
Early movie poster
The man took the money from the film, sold it to a guy from Europe, and then he took off to Brazil...with the money. Herk didn't get a dime. And neither did the investors. The only time they ever got any of their money back was when the picture came through Europe as a foreign film. It came back to America and played the midnight circuit in New York, and was a big hit.
In fact, when George Romero made..."Night Of The Living Dead"...reporters asked what inspired him to make the movie. He said, 'Oh I watched "Carnival Of Souls" one night in New York.' Everybody asked him, "What's "Carnival Of Souls"? (laughs)
Casey Chambers: And now "Carnival Of Souls" is praised by critics and film-lovers the world over.
Larry Sneegas: Yeah, it is. And there were people that were paid and got some money. I got paid $250. I took my money and bought a 1955 Studebaker that I drove for seven years. (laughs) So, it was profitable for a lot of people. But profitability in those days is a lot different than what it is now.
"Like a lost episode from "Twilight Zone," it places
the supernatural right in the middle
of everyday life and surrounds it
with ordinary people...and it's possible that it plays
better today than when it was released."
~ Roger Ebert
Casey Chambers: What was going on in your life before you became involved in making this movie?
Larry Sneegas: Well, I was real close to graduating from the University of Kansas in Theatre Design. The major part of the design work was in lighting and I had done stage lighting for the Santa Fe Opera Company for their shows during the summers of '61 and '62.
Now, the summer of 1960, I had started dating my wife while on a USO tour doing "Brigadoon". Thirty-five shows in seven different countries. It was part of Eisenhower's People-to-People Program. And it was the first American musical presented in downtown Seoul, Korea.
And I remember we also did the same thing in Taiwan in front of 1500 national Chinese soldiers. It was a very strange show. The general had a microphone...but we didn't. He was interpreting the performance as we went along. So right in the middle of a love song like "The Heather On the Hill"...the general would come in with..."Ting ti yi tay ah!". And he was so much louder than we were. (laughs) So, it was an interesting experience.
Casey Chambers: I can see how that would throw you off your game a touch. And then, after "Carnival Of Souls" was completed and all the hoopla was over, what did you do?
Larry Sneegas: Well, I went down to Pensacola and got commissioned. My 'D' in high school algebra didn't carry me through trigonometry to coefficient lift under the wings. I hadn't gone down there to design aircraft, I went there to fly'em...but my math skills weren't helping me much in ground school. So after my fourth student pilot disposition board, I joined the fleet in the Pacific. They made me the assistant oceanographer on a survey ship.
I finished up my surveying in the Philippines. Went to Hawaii. Then went down to South America and surveyed the mouth of the Orinoco River leading up to Ventuari River.
Ships kept running aground because they were drudging out the channels for the freighters to follow. They were dumping it on the south side mouth of the river and the tide was carrying it right back upstream.
It took about two hours to determine where they should dump it, but we were there for two months. Then I went to Seattle and surveyed outside the Juan de Fuca Straits to help the submarines coming out of their base navigate underwater.
Sub coming up in Juan de Fuca Straits
The interesting thing about all that survey work...is that now, for $4.00, you can buy a chart showing the topography of the entire earth taken with infrared photography from 250 miles out in space. And it will show all the hiccups and glitches in the earth's surface. It is so magnificent.
Casey Chambers: We're living in the future, for sure. And you still call Kansas your home?
I was putting three kids through college and that worked out fine. Oh, and I also helped produce the theater in the park productions for 18 years at Shawnee Mission Park. Now I have nine grandchildren. My three kids are all still in the area and so are my grandkids.
Casey Chambers: Very cool. Sounds like a full life well lived. I really want to thank you for sharing all of these stories and spending the afternoon with me. It's been a lot of fun and I do appreciate it.
Larry Sneegas: Oh, you are welcome. And thank you.
"I Love The Dead" - Alice Cooper - "Billion Dollar Babies" (1973)
Good stuff. And Happy Halloween!
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