Review: ‘Carrie’ 40th Anniversary Edition

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If you, like me, are a fan of Stephen King, you should have a special place in your heart for Carrie, his first published novel (in 1974), which became the first film based on his now voluminous work (in 1976) and even a musical and a movie remake.

But Carrie is special beyond its firsts. The tale of a sweet girl whose religious zealot mother and cruel classmates push her to use her destructive telekinetic powers to the max, it’s simply a great King yarn, and it’s fascinating to explore how it changed, while keeping the same central characters and spirit, in director Brian De Palma’s film version.

You can do this by picking up Scream Factory’s new two-disc Blu-ray “Collector’s Edition” for the film’s 40th anniversary year, due Oct. 11. Along with a new 4K scan of the film’s original negative, it’s got loads of extras for dissecting and probing the production, some of which are repeats (trailers, TV spots, radio spots, still gallery, etc.) and some of which are new.

New material includes fresh interviews with screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, film editor Paul Hirsch, director of photography Mario Tosi (who praises the shoot — and the film’s moments of tenderness — but laments that De Palma never hired him again), casting director Harriet B. Helberg and actors Nancy Allen (the former Mrs. DePalma), William Katt (the curls are long gone), Piper Laurie (don’t forget she was on Twin Peaks), P.J. Soles, Betty Buckley and Edie McClurg (but no Sissy Spacek for the title role).

All are still alive and kicking — and often looking pretty good — after 40 years because all were quite young when they made the movie. As such, they were “fearless,” as DePalma says, and gave performances with gusto.

The result was a huge box office and critical hit which also earned Oscar nominations for actresses Spacek and Laurie — a rarity for the horror genre, though The Exorcist had a breakthrough three years earlier with 10 Oscar nominations, winning for best sound and best screenplay from another medium.

Carrie also was prescient in terms of today’s bullying epidemic among teens. As Cohen rightly asserts in his new  interview, the title character was a “poster child for bullying” and the film has become “even more relevant” today.

Yet Carrie was a tough sell to studios, only getting greenlit when a new female exec championed its female-focused story (and wasn’t put off by an early scene involving Carrie’s horrified first menstruation in the girl’s locker room at school, leading to abuse from her classmates).

Cohen also notes the film’s “illusion of fidelity” to its source. He notes the many new scenes which were written strictly for the screen — a different medium which needs different approaches — and says King was grateful for the changes.

Interviews are sometimes intercut with clips from the film or stills from the set, where a young John Travolta was getting in character to play a goofus bad-ass, having won the part by auditioning in full makeup and wardrobe on his lunch break from Welcome Back, Kotter.

Hirsch, who cut for De Palma five times, traces paths connecting Carrie to his earlier Sisters, Obsession and Phantom of the Paradise (but gets the last film’s working title wrong: it was Phantom of the Fillmore, not just Phantom).

A less satisfying new extra is an 11-minute “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds,” a dull revisit of the film’s bland (today, anyway) locations on So Cal streets and schoolyards. Hammy host and writer Sean Clark, whose work has appeared elsewhere, tries to talk it all up, but there’s just not that much to see.

In fact, the house where Carrie lived is now gone — we’re shown a vacant lot — though Clark’s  enthusiastic spin is that this fits the film’s fictional finale.

Nice try, Sean, but I’d rather see the house, just as the first place I visited on my first trip to Georgetown was the house and long stairway from The Exorcist. If they’d been gone and replaced by emptiness — meh.

But I quibble. This is a fantastic two-disc set of a fantastic film, and I highly recommend it. It’s a landmark horror movie, and with all the mindless bullying today, we need more cautionary tales showing “hell hath no payback” like this one.

— Bruce Westbrook

 

 

 

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