Screenplay : Lawrence D. Cohen (based on the novel by Stephen King)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1976
Stars : Sissy Spacek (Carrie White), Piper Laurie (Margaret White), William Katt (Tommy Ross), Amy Irving (Sue Snell), Nancy Allen (Chris), Betty Buckley (Miss Collins), John Travolta (Billy Nolan)
Because teen horror movies have become such a commodified staple of the pop culture landscape, it is easy to overlook just what an accomplishment Brian De Palma's Carrie, the teen gothic horror satire that started it all, really was. Meticulously designed and executed, Carrie is both an aesthetic tour de force—a masterwork of camera movement and editing to generate tension and suspense—and a prescient satire about what it means to be a teenager in America.
What is most important about the movie historically is the way it blew open both the horror and the teen genres by showing repressed supernatural fury going head-to-head with adolescent sadism. Carrie is not so much a revenge movie at it is a movie about unavoidable explosion. Revenge is something that is premeditated; what happens at the end of Carrie is more akin to a canister of nitroglycerine that was finally shook too hard.
Based on the first novel by a then-unknown writer named Stephen King, Carrie tells the story of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), a perennial outsider in her suburban high school (named Bates High in one of De Palma's many Hitchcock allusions). Carrie has everything going against her: She's shy and awkward, and she doesn't dress well or maintain herself physically (her face is almost constantly hidden behind stringy curtains of long hair). But, most of all, she projects weakness, and there is nothing that captures adolescent radar better than a weak kid who can serve as the scapegoat for all the other kids' troubles and insecurities. Carrie is especially victimized by a beautiful female sadist named Chris (Nancy Allen), who develops a hatred for Carrie that eventually surpasses normal adolescent torture and enters the realm of sheer evil.
Carrie's other major handicap is her mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), a religious fanatic whose mentally unbalanced behavior goes a long way toward explaining why Carrie is so insecure about herself. Margaret has instilled in her daughter the fear of everything, because to her, everything is a sin. She even goes so far as to lock Carrie in a broom closet for hours at a time where she is forced to pray in front of a small, very creepy statue of St. Sebastian.
Margaret has reason to fear her daughter because Carrie has the gift of telekinesis, which means she can move objects with her mind if she concentrates hard enough. Carrie's telekinetic ability is thoroughly intertwined with her fragile emotional state, and it comes out in moments of great anguish. The narrative is careful never to suggest that Carrie uses this ability on purpose or to gain advantage for herself; rather, it comes out when her emotions get the best of her.
There are a few characters who look out for Carrie, the primary one being Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), the gym teacher, whose meanness toward the other girls is borne out of her disgust for the way they treat Carrie. Another is Sue Snell (Amy Irving), a popular girl who finally realizes just how cruel she and her friends (who include Chris) have been to Carrie. The turning point for Sue is the movie's opening sequence, where all the girls in the locker room hurl taunts and jeers at Carrie after she has had her first period and, because her mother never told her about menstruation, panics because she doesn't know what it is. Sue asks her boyfriend, a popular athlete named Tommy Ross (William Katt), to take Carrie to the prom in order to help her out socially, and Tommy grudgingly agrees.
Although he didn't want to ask her, once at the prom, Tommy finds that he truly likes Carrie, and De Palma allows the sequence to develop in long, lengthy takes that emphasize the fairy-tale nature of the scenario. After years of torment and neglect, this American Cinderella finally gets what she deserves, especially when she and Tommy are voted king and queen of the prom. But, in a sudden and vicious turn, all of Carrie's dreams are shattered in one horrific moment as it becomes clear that the whole thing has been a ruse, and Chris and her abusive boyfriend, Billy (John Travolta), have set the whole thing up in order to dump a bucket of pig's blood on her while she in on-stage.
The searing image of Carrie standing on the stage in her prom dress, drenched from head to toe in blood, with her striking blue eyes suddenly blazing outward in a trance-like fury, has become the perfect symbol for every adolescent who every felt picked on, tormented, or betrayed. At that moment, she literally ceases to be Carrie White, and becomes a amalgam of every outsider's most perverted fantasy of vengeance. De Palma, having carefully and methodically set up the prom sequence, lets everything come crashing down, aesthetically and physically, using the split-screen technique and rapid editing to convey the sudden pandemonium as Carrie, her telekinesis run amok, turns the school gymnasium into an inferno that consumes everyone, both friend and foe. This explosion of repressed anger and fear and sadness that literally burns up the senior prom, that most cherished of adolescent traditions, is one of De Palma's most triumphantly perverse visions of hell let loose on America.
Carrie was a huge success in 1976—both commercially and critically—and it put both Stephen King and Brian De Palma on the map because it was something no one had seen before. King's pulp-gothic imagination was perfectly realized on-screen in De Palma's Hitchcock-influenced manipulative camerawork and his understanding of the underlying satire of it all. Carrie works because, underneath all the melodrama and gore, it is essentially a comedy about the ridiculous rites of American teenager-dom and the inherent sadism of some of our most cherished institutions and traditions. Too many movies have tried to follow in its wake by placing attractive teenage stars in pulpy horror stories, but few of them have managed to achieve De Palma's intimate sense of how the horror and the humor work together to create a riveting experience that makes you both cringe and grin, sometimes at the same time.
|Carrie 25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD|
|Audio||Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Languages||English (5.1, 1.0)|
|Supplements|| Acting Carrie 43-minute making-of documentary|
Visualizing Carrie 40-minute making-of documentary
Singing Carrie 6-minute featurette
Animated photo gallery
Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie
Original theatrical trailer
|This 25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD features a new anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer (MGM's previously available bare-bone 1998 release of Carrie had a nonanamorphic transfer). As Carrie was a fairly low-budget movie made more than two decades ago, the source elements are not perfect—in fact, far from it. There are several noticeable vertical lines, a few nicks and scratches, and a fairly consistent level of grain. The transfer itself is quite good, given the state of the print from which it was taken, with good detail and fairly strong colors that are particularly notable in the prom sequence, which features all kinds of gaudy red, blue, and green lights. Black levels tend to be somewhat problematic, as they sometimes appear a little too gray.|
|This disc features the same remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that was available on the earlier release. This soundtrack is a great example of how much spaciousness can be brought out of an original monaural track if the job is done right. The fiery prom massacre is especially impressive, with the surround channels adding depth and scope to the visual pyrotechnics. The musical score, obviously inspired by Psycho's shrieking violins, also sounds great, and the added channels give the shocking moments added force.|
| Although the cover art on this release looks a lot like the previously released DVD (the eight-page insert booklet is exactly the same), this Special Edition DVD features a host of new extras that make it worth the purchase, especially at such a low SRP. |
First up are two in-depth retrospective documentaries about the making of the movie. Both docs were produced and directed by Laurent Bouzereau, who wrote The De Palma Cut, one of the first in-depth scholarly analyses of De Palma's films, as well as The Cutting Room Floor, a book about the MPAA ratings system and the effect it has had on many notable films, including De Palma's.
In the 43-minute documentary Acting Carrie, Bouzereau has managed to round up almost every principal actor in the movie for new interviews, including Sissy Spacek, Betty Buckley, Piper Laurie, William Katt, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, and P.J. Soles (notably absent is John Travolta). Also included are Brian De Palma, screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, and art director Jack Fisk. The actors reminisce about the making of the movie, how they were cast in a dual casting session run by De Palma and George Lucas, who was casting for Stars Wars at the same time (apparently, Katt was up for the role of Luke Skywalker), and how De Palma mostly left them alone in their acting and focused on his camerawork.
De Palma's camerawork and Jack Fisk's art direction and production design are the focus of the second documentary, the 40-minute Visualizing Carrie. Several of the actors are also featured in interviews here, as they discuss De Palm's unique visual style and how he constructed Carrie into an aesthetic tour de force. Like the other documentary, this one is full of memorable anecdotes and trivia, such as how De Palma came up with the idea for Margaret White's crucifixion-like death and how the special effects were achieved. This documentary is also notable for containing an extended discussion of a much-talked-about deleted opening scene that showed Carrie as a small child bringing a hail of stones down on her house (I assume the scene itself has been lost, but several still images are featured).
Disappointing, however, is the only word to describe Singing Carrie, the measly six-minute featurette on the ill-fated 1988 musical adaptation of Carrie, one of the truly legendary bombs in Broadway history. As it only ran for a short time, very few people have actually seen the musical, but you won't get much out of this featurette. All it offers is a few minutes of an interview with writer Lawrence D. Cohen, who essentially blames the musical's failure on the fact that the director was British and didn't know what a prom was, and Betty Buckley, who appeared on-stage as Margaret White. I had been hoping for more information and at least some still images or songs from the doomed production, but, apparently due to rights issues, nothing of the sort was included (judging by how much paraphernalia from Carrie the musical sells on eBay, I know there are others out there who wanted to see more, too).
Also included on the disc is "Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie," a three-part text-only section written by Bouzereau that focuses on how King wrote his first novel, how Cohen adapted it into a screenplay, and a comparison of the differences between the book and the movie. A six-minute animated slideshow features dozens of behind-the-scenes and production photographs, and an original theatrical trailer is included in nonanamorphic widescreen.
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick