Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Carrie (1976)

Directed by:
Brian De Palma

With the current big budget remake of Carrie (directed by Kimberly Pierce) currently playing in theaters, I figured it was about time the original classic finally got a write-up on here. I'll start out by saying that I'm not sure whether or not I'm even going to bother watching the latest adaptation of the Stephen King novel. I've already read up on it quite a bit and all I see are mostly indifferent reviews from critics and lots of bickering on internet message boards. Morbid curiosity will probably get the better of me eventually, but I'm sure as hell not going to pay to see yet another lesser version of an already perfectly fine film. Going to the cinema to watch these things only ensures more of the same and I'm done giving lazy filmmakers and producers my hard-earned money, and thus showing my approval, for what they're doing. The general consensus of fans of the original seems to be that the remake is a pale copy that brings absolutely nothing new to the table and is subpar in every way imaginable to De Palma's original. Remake defenders state the original is dated and this new one updates both the story and the special effects to contemporary times for a new generation. And that's pretty much all I had to hear to finalize my decision on skipping out on Carrie 2013 for the time being.

Even without seeing this newest version, I still have a bone to pick with many of its fans for pulling out the tired "It's dated" card. Anyone who frequents movie message boards is already well-acquainted with this lame defense mechanism. It's all about finding ways to denigrate the original, even for the most asinine and ridiculous reasons imaginable, in an attempt to boost up the newer one. While no film is perfect, and the original Carrie is no exception to that rule, 70s era fashions and hairdos most certainly do not deaden or lessen its impact one bit to a modern viewer; at least not those hopelessly stuck on small superficial details. 

Well over three and a half decades later, the film still tells a harrowing story about what it's like to be an outcast during an already-confusing time in one's life, and also stands as an astute warning to those who like to poke hornet's nests with sticks. If you do, you pretty much deserve what you have coming to you. In addition to its still relevant themes, the compelling central performances, the artistry of De Palma's direction (which has about the best use of split-screen you will see), the haunting elegance of Pino Donaggio's score and the star spangled beauty of Mario Tosi's cinematography, all ensure that the original will forever remain a classic. We'll see how well-regarded Carrie 2013 is by 2050. And with that, I'm done talking about the new Carrie... until it pops up on the Lifetime Network here in about two years and I have nothing else to watch.

Aside from what De Palma and his crew brought to the table, Carrie's enduring popularity can also be attributed to a trio of terrific performances. The first, of course, comes from Sissy Spacek as the meek, shy, abused outsider who's tormented by her peers at school and has to deal with even worse problems at home. Spacek's impressive performance, a breakout role which garnered her an Oscar nomination, has two very distinct layers to it. While she always enlists our sympathies, she's also downright scary when push comes to shove and, decked in a coat of crimson pig's blood, her telekinetic powers are unleashed in all their fury. Whether victim or avenger, we learn to genuinely care for the character, which makes the build-up to the inevitable tragic climax all the more powerful, and Spacek deserves all the accolades she received for helping to make that happen. Piper Laurie, who also received an Oscar nomination, gives the second standout performance; a scenery-chewing, barnstorming interpretation of a nutso religious fanatic that, once seen, is never forgotten. The third performance of note comes from Betty Buckley, who is often overlooked in favor of the two leading ladies, but in her own way is equally impressive as tough yet tender-hearted gym teacher Miss Collins; one of the few people to show our troubled protagonist a little compassion.

Much of the rest of the cast also contribute pretty solid work. Nancy Allen (who'd later marry the director) is perfectly detestable as Chris; the extremely nasty girl who masterminds the cruel Prom prank on Carrie with help from her moronic boyfriend (a pre-Saturday Night Fever John Travolta; who's actually about the weakest acting link here). Amy Irving (who'd later marry Steven Spielberg) offers a counter-balance as Sue, who puts her popularity at risk trying to help out her tormented classmate by offering up her own boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) as a Prom Night date. P.J. Soles and Edie McClurg (as a few of the other mean girls), Sydney Lassick (teacher), Stefan Gierasch (principal) and Irving's real-life mother Priscilla Pointer as same round out the cast. Apparently a joint casting call was placed for this and Star Wars (1977), with some actors chosen for this project and some going to the other. It was clearly a win win situation for whoever managed to book a job that day. The director's son, Cameron De Palma, appears briefly as an obnoxious little boy riding a bike.

An extremely successful film, both commercially and critically, Carrie spawned its share of clones and a flop Broadway musical that lasted only two weeks, as well as many more genre films meant to appeal directly to a teenage audience. It however wouldn't be until 1999 that an official sequel emerged. Despite not being too bad of a movie overall, Katt Shea's The Rage: Carrie II (which featuring Irving reprising her role), received poor to middling reviews and didn't quite set the box office on fire. Nevertheless, a made-for-TV mini-series was released just three years later. Though more faithful to the book and boasting a strong central performance from Angela Bettis, the overall effect was muted by a 3-hour run-time, a pointless framing device and ugly cinematography. It didn't help matters that the horrific Prom massacre was reduced to a barrage of horrible CGI effects and a moronic, misconceived twist was grafted onto the end. (Apparently, they wanted to turn the movie into a TV series at one point. Yikes!) Oh well, feel free to ignore all that if you want. The original's not going anywhere and it's easy to find. Personally, I think it's one of the few examples of a film being better than its source novel (it was adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen).

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