Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Carrie (1976)

Monday, November 15, 2010 08:31 PM

In the fourth grade, at my friend Jeff's house, I spotted a book that his older sister had finished reading. The cover showed the face of a lovely girl, half in shadow, the other half in a silhouetted and masculine profile. His sister Judy asked me if I wanted to read it and I, being too scared of her to say no, said yes.

This was the first book written for adults I had read. It also introduced me to an author whose body of work would grow and mature as I did. I am talking about Stephen King's first novel, Carrie.

Years later, sitting in my literature classes at Miami, I hoped that a hundred years from now future students would be reading and deconstructing The Shining or The Stand just like we were doing with novels like The Red and Black or Death in Venice.

Not just an author of scary stories, King has also captured the minds, the thoughts, and the attitudes of Americans in the twentieth century with his writing. More than once during my years in Vermont did I meet someone who could have been one of King's New England characters.

Due to my parents strict "No R rated movies" policy,I wouldn't be able to watch Brian Depalma's 1976 adaption of Carrie until several years after it was released. It was maddening to listen to other kids, whose parents seemed not to care about movie ratings, talk about the movie (and give away the ending.) But at least I had read the book and could do my own compare and contrast exercises in my head.

The transition from book to screen went smoothly; Brian De Palma bought the rights to Carrie at the encouragement of a friend and easily found a studio interested in funding him. The film was a commercial and critical success, with two of its cast members earning Academy Award nominations.

King did not have any thing to do with making of Carrie, although he has reportedly said that it was a good movie. After watching it again recently, I think he is underestimating it. Not only is it a good horror film, but also a well made movie. De Palma brings a well crafted visual style to the movie while Lawrence Cohen's script imbibes the main characters with much broadness and complexity.

Sissy Spacek & Piper Laurie
practice family values at home
The cast's performances raise  Carrie above  most horror films from 1976.  Sissy Spacek gives an amazing performance as the titular character. She takes Carrie White from a shy and immature little girl to a mature young woman and then a vengeful demon sating its blood-lust on her Bates High School class in a short time. I found myself sharing her prom date Tommy's infatuation with her. I would have fallen in love with her too. This ebullience makes her final transformations in the last half of the film all the more frightening. It is subtle and delicate work; Spacek is absent for most of the first half of the film after its horrifying beginning. 

The contrast to her naiveté is the truly malevolent Margret White, Carrie's mother. Piper Laurie exudes her fervent religious insanity with a powerful intensity that casts her as one of the screen's most monstrous mothers. Both Spacek and Laurie earned Oscar nominations for their performances in Carrie.

Nancy Allen

Spacek's other supporting actors give fine, but less powerful performances. Carrie's high school nemesis, Chris Hargensen, played by Nancy Allen (RoboCop's partner!) is mostly a mystery; other than that she has Farah Fawcett hair, is dating hoodlum John Travolta, er, Vinnie Barbarino, er, Billy Nolan, and hates Carrie, nothing more is known about her. King seldom provides explanations or back stories for the evil that visits his characters; it just exists.
John Travolta as Billy Nolan or Vinnie Barbarino

Sue tries to use her boyfriend to redeem herself

Often King's characters cause calamity by acting in misguided or misinformed ways. This is personified by Sue Snell, Carrie's classmate, neighbor and a tormentor in the the film's opening scene played by Amy Irving, It is her attempts to redeem herself for harassing Carrie in the locker room that set the Rube Goldberg type chain of events in motion and results in the doomed dance.

Roger Daltry as Tommy, Sue's boyfriend

Sue's terror in the final scene, where Carrie attempts to drag her to Hell in a dream, might stem less from her fear of Carrie and more from guilt over her role in the demise of most of Bates High School's class of 1976.

The final act of the movie begins with Carrie near the height of her triumph-she stood up to her mother and has made a successful entrance to the prom. Her descent to vengeance seeking, blood spattered, homicidal demon is quick. Carrie ends the film a scared child, seeking comfort in her mother's arms, her transformation complete.
Prom Queen Carrie

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 06:30 PM

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