Monday, May 15, 2017

CARRIE (1976) - *****

Rated R
Running time: 98 min.
Release date: November 16, 1976

Brian De Palma's Carrie is a prime example of what can happen when well-written characters are played by an excellent cast who hit all the right notes and are directed by someone who cares about the material and presents great ideas both with the camera and in the editing room. It is hard to find any fault with Carrie, and is a rare example of a horror film that transcends the genre and becomes something more.

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is a shy, introverted teenage girl who is teased and bullied at school but finds no solace at home either, where she is dominated over by her religious zealot of a mother (Piper Laurie). When she menstruates for the first time, it is totally unexpected for her and her reaction is one of terror. Unfortunately it occurs in the gym locker room at school, where she is tortuously teased by her fellow students. Some quirky things happen when Carrie is under duress, such as ceiling lights exploding and an ashtray flies off the principal's desk, so we get the impression that there is more to Carrie than just social awkwardness. At home, her overly religious mother believes that menstruation is a sign of sin and she forces Carrie into a closet for prayer, watched over by the creepiest statue of Jesus you will ever see.

Locked in the closet with THIS?? Give me the school bullies!

There are a couple of sources of sympathy for Carrie, however, in the form of gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) and a remorseful classmate in Sue (Amy Irving). To make amends and in an attempt to bring Carrie out of her shell, Sue arranges for her boyfriend, the popular Tommy (William Katt), to take Carrie to the prom. Meanwhile, Carrie has become aware that there is something different about her and starts reading up on her "specialness".  She has the power of telekinesis, something her mother attributes to Satan. The powers are not given much attention, at first, as the focus is on Carrie and her relationship with her mother, her classmates and her gym teacher. There is also revenge subplot here where the mischievous and spiteful Chris (Nancy Allen) plots to humiliate Carrie, taking along her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta). When we finally get the climactic scene at the prom, what unfolds is a just a masterstroke of built-up tension and terror, all because De Palma and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen have taken the time, within a 98 minute running time, to create characters we care about and crafted a story that takes logical steps to its conclusion.

De Palma paints Carrie as a sympathetic character, creating tension at both home and school. Carrie is a victim who has been pushed to the breaking point by her peers and, probably most sadly, by her own domineering mother. De Palma provides a good pace to the film, where every scene has meaning in regards to the climax. Cohen's screenplay gives the audience immediate accessibility to all these characters, so we know where we stand with each one within moments of meeting them. De Palma also employs some neat, skillful tricks; such as one scene with Carrie and Tommy dancing at prom. De Palma has the camera spin around the two slowly at first, but then it picks up speed until it feels like the two are going to careen out of control. There is also a split-screen utilized that enables the audience to simultaneously watch Carrie and the  A lot of thought and detail went into De Palma's directing of Carrie, leading to a film that is easy to follow and understand both visually and emotionally.

Sissy Spacek couldn't have been more perfect to play Carrie and she undergoes several transformations throughout the course of the film. From plain Carrie, to the pretty prom Carrie and finally to the Carrie that unleashes terrible wrath. This last one is most interesting because Spacek basically uses her eyes. She is completely unrecognizable here before finally returning home and becoming plain Carrie again before the tragic conclusion. As Mrs. White, Piper Laurie succeeds greatly in portraying a woman who has formed her own religion out of her fears of things such as womanhood and sex. She is cold to Carrie when all Carrie seeks is comfort from someone she loves. The rest of the ensemble cast provide good performances; from Betty Buckley's sympathetic Miss Collins to Nancy Allen's mean-spirited Chris. Special mention to John Travolta for his portrayal of the less-then-intelligent boyfriend. He's in on the plan just so he could get laid. Amy Irving and William Katt are nice enough as a couple, especially Katt. He showers Carrie with legitimate kindness without an ounce of irony, so much that it was quite possible to believe there was a spark between he and Carrie.

With the cast playing everything pitch perfect and De Palma skillfully crafting a well-paced story filled with slow-building tension, Carrie is a horror film that is elevated above the genre. It remains mostly true to the source material by author Stephen King and yet manages to transgress the works of King. De Palma and company have made something special here.

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