Stiffs 2: CARNIVAL OF SOULS and the Value of Properly-Used Bad Acting

By complete coincidence I put in CARNIVAL OF SOULS right after finishing THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER. It’s an interesting experiment in the value of Outsider Art–or, in some cases, Accidental Art.

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Star Candace Hilligoss is a trained actress. She didn’t do a lot of acting in her career, but her abilities are greater than any of the other actors in CARNIVAL, with one important exception. Mary Henry’s constant state of post-car-crash anxiety holds the audience’s attention throughout–we keep wondering, “What’s UP with this one?” While I’m usually all aboard any explanation that ends with “She’s a lesbian,” she just seems repelled by any human contact…which is where the rest of the cast’s amateurism comes into play.

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From the start, other people are clearly the enemy in Mary’s world. One gets her killed…

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…her landlady is intrusive and of no help when Mary suspects The Man is in her building…

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…and doctors, who are supposedly supposed to help in times of mental and physical threat, treat her like it’s all in her head. In each case, through bad looping or bad acting, the people in Mary’s world meet Mary’s coldness with hostility. The actors can’t deliver lines expressively, with warmth.


The dude at the water fountain is not only unable to deliver a line convincingly, he does so in a straightforward shot, as if the director is giving him room to emote. It’s such an oddly-shot bit of amateur acting that you wonder, “Is he SUPPOSED to be this way?”

The man acts, and is shot like, he’s a pod person.

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Even in the wake of Tough Love, Rough Psychiatry still didn’t catch on.

The other member of the cast who could act was Sidney Berger, who plays the slimy housemate across the hall perfectly. He talks like someone who’s seen too many movies about Bad Boys and thinks he can pull it off, but once Mary gets hysterical he’s out the door. He’s the closest Mary comes to another person, and only because she’s afraid to be alone; she can’t stand him, and he’s loathsome, and then he’s not even an option.

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Whether through intent (THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER) or ineptitude, people behaving differently from the way movies have conditioned us to expect them to behave in social interactions cause us to pay attention. There must be something else going on here that we’re not seeing.

In CARNIVAL OF SOULS it’s an accidental wake-up call. But it’s still a wake-up call that fits into the movie’s intended message, so what’s the problem?

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