Wednesday, June 6, 2018

CANON OF FILM: "CARRIE"

CARRIE (1976)

Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen based on the novel by Stephen King



Just reading some trivia on the film, apparently many of the actors including Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, and even Piper Laurie, who along with Spacek earned Oscar nominations for the film, thought that their characters were so over-the-top that they thought the film was a comedy and played their parts that way. I guess back then, before Stephen King was officially crowned our modern master of horror that might've made sense, but boy does that seem weird now, even though, yes, most of the main supporting characters probably did feel they were in a comedy as all they were doing was pull off an elaborate, that, without giving too much away for those who haven't seen it, let's just say it backfires on them, badly.

I've always been reluctant to add "Carrie" to the Canon. It took me awhile to figure out exactly why, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I had a very difficult separating the personal aspects of the film for me. "Carrie" was one of those big movies of mine growing up; I imagine it probably was for anybody who grew up really genuinely hating some people in high school. Not everybody of course, but you don't notice or remember most from high school at the time, you're mostly focused in on those who for one reason or another chose to make your life difficult. Some didn't realize they may have done so, others devoted a distressing amount of time to it. I won't dwell onto this too much since, I grew up in the Columbine era of high school, and well, we haven't gotten out of that yet, (Either that or we moved onto something way the hell worst) and frankly, yeah, for some, at certain points, "Carrie" plays more as wish-fulfillment release than maybe it should. 

Of course, if I'm being honest with myself, I didn't read that way the first time I saw it The first Stephen King novel to be translated to the big screen, “Carrie,” is a horror film classic that forty-some odd years later is amazingly still actually scary. Sadistic nature of audience members like me aside, the movie works mostly because, unlike most horrors where we're waiting for the actual scare to invade the hero characters that we're usually identifying with, this is one of the few movies that's distinctly about the perspective of the frightening thing that will inevitably attack others. The fact that it gives us others more than enough reason for their punishments from the fright, a shy and disturbed teenage girl, Carrie White (Oscar-nominee Sissy Spacek) makes it a more enjoyable for us to revel in it than it might otherwise if we didn't have sympathy for her, which is probably the most genius part of the story. 

After a particular frightful and humiliating incident in the girls' locker room, Carrie starts to realize she has some special powers. After some research she realizes that she's telekenetic and can move things with her mind. This would become a common horror villain trope for awhile. Meanwhile, one of the girls who got in trouble for her actions before, Sue (Amy Irving) decides to convince her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to ask Carrie out to the Prom instead of her. Meanwhile, another girl, Chris (Nancy Allen) who blames Carrie from getting her banned from the prom, she "talks" a few other students, mainly her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) into pulling a humiliating prank on Carrie out of revenge. Of course, she doesn't know, what we know and what Carrie's mother is learning. Carrie's mother Margaret (Oscar-nominee Piper Laurie) is simply put, certifiably insane. She locks Carrie in a closet after she learned that she began menstruating for instance, fearing that it was some sign of the devil, or some other religious bullshit that stems from her being a little too loose and easy when she was in school and her boyfriend leaving when Carrie was little. She's the real villain to me, 'cause I think we can insinuate that if she didn't raise Carrie like this that she wouldn't become so insular that she could then start moving inanimate objects with her mind. (BTW Carrie wins all "Which superpower do you want," games.) 

The movie is directed by Brian De Palma, he's a director who I've always been a little back and forth on myself, sometimes he makes some of the best thrillers in modern cinema like "Blow Out" and "Body Double" or the underrated "Femme Fatale" and "Carlito's Way", other times, I tend to think he's somewhat miscast as a director. "Carrie," is a little bit of a mix for me in this regard; of course the famous split screen effect was innovative in it's use back then, and it works here. Other times, like a clothing montage where I wondered if he has any idea where to place the camera at all. He's usually best at style and not-so-much substance, this is true of even some of his most beloved films like "Scarface", or "The Untouchables" much less some of his more notorious later-careers flops. 

"Carrie"'s biggest contribution to cinema and the horror genre, might actually be the last scare scene where Amy Irving's dream sequence is suddenly invaded. When I first saw the movie, that was the legit only scene that actually frightened me and took me aback. I had accepted everything else somehow, but that ending, which caused dozens of copycats, the apparent presence of some awful remnant of what had happened, what the others had done...- that was the biggest fright. That's the lasting impression that keeps people coming back to this one. I might argue that it's still the best Stephen King adaptation out there, and part of that is that it can work on so many different levels for so many different people. As a horror, it's a classic, a revenge fantasy it's one of the best, as a character study this is probably really underrated, most horror films even great ones, don't hinge on the characters themselves being the purveyors of horror but this not only does, but it wouldn't work if it was done any other way. 


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