MGM // 1976 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // October 13th, 2008
You were warned not to push Carrie to the limits...now you must face the evil consequences.
The modest, popular little shocker Carrie has now been given the high definition treatment, but the film's fans shouldn't get too excited. Note to MGM: they're all going to laugh at you!
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner's Daughter) is an ugly duckling who has become the biggest outcast at Bates High School. Every day, she must contend with verbal and physical abuse not only at school but also at home, where she becomes a virtual prisoner at the hands of her wicked, obviously insane mother (Piper Laurie, Children Of A Lesser God), who always uses God as her excuse for punishment. However, Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers, which are triggered by her mind when she enters the eye of an emotional hurricane.
When popular high school student Tommy Ross (William Katt, House) is asked by his girlfriend Sue Snell (Amy Irving, Tuck Everlasting) to ask Carrie to the prom -- to give her a chance in the social fabric -- things start to look promising for Carrie. However, Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen, RoboCop) a blonde bitch with a grudge, orally urges her boyfriend Billy Nolan (John Travolta, Pulp Fiction) to craft a horrible humiliation scheme to be conducted on Carrie at the prom.
Like many other critics, I have mixed opinions when it comes to Brian De Palma's work as a director. It's hardly news that many of his films borrow heavily from Hitchcock, and the results range from oppressive (Obsession), to silly (Raising Cain), to supreme (Dressed To Kill). I much prefer his freshman efforts (Greetings, Hi, Mom!), which satirized the '60s counterculture with an audacity which wasn't utilized in studio efforts. Quite frankly, he sold some of his soul to the Hollywood machine after 1973's Sisters and depended more on previous material rather than clever invention. The biggest evidence of this is his wildly over-the-top, extremely overrated Scarface, which tends to piss on Howard Hawks' grave more than its purported respect for the granddaddy of gangster films.
At any rate, Carrie was really De Palma's breakout film. Based on Stephen King's first novel, the movie runs away from much of the novel's subtext, instead opting for a much more conventional approach to a strong story. I read the novel shortly after watching the film the first time and was more taken aback at King's prose; unlike most of his horror works, it didn't overly rely on supernatural mumbo-jumbo to tack the story. The narrative itself -- at its core -- is gripping, as it showcases a central character we identify with, while also feeling her pain, misery and isolation. The girl's telekinesis is almost like a gift, a weapon she can use to escape the hazing by her peers. Her fanatical Christian of a mother has kept her imprisoned all her life, giving our heroine no social skills. Once she has a chance to acquire said skills, that is when hell breaks loose.
Unfortunately, De Palma's film version -- adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen -- can't seem to reach the disturbing heights its aspiring to reach. It's close, but no Cuban. What De Palma and Cohen do succeed in is introducing the characters (the opening sequence in the female locker room still packs a bloody wallop), layering its title character and her mother, and even supplying some naturalistic, profanely raw dialogue to its high school setting. The climactic sequence at the prom highlighting Carrie's revenge (and the aftermath) has its shortcomings, but remains vivid and potent. As dark at it is, it also plays like a guilty-pleasure type of fantasy, eclipsing our hidden desires to hose down all high school stereotypes and stuff them in their superficial world full of jackass buffoonery.
No matter how many times I see Carrie, I continue to be impressed at its cast. Sissy Spacek lives and breathes the title role, bringing life to a memorable character that holds our sympathy right to the very end; if there is any reason to watch the film, it's for her subtle, superb, blood-soaked performance. Piper Laurie is equally towering as Carrie's bible-thumping mama, a woman who would feel more at home in a mental institution run by a church. The best scenes in the movie are the ones with Spacek and Laurie together, as Carrie's rising signs of telekinesis register to her mother as a product of the Devil. True, these are the very scenes which are most vulnerable to ineptness and laughter, and it's these two great actresses who manage to avoid those negative effects.
The supporting cast is mostly peppered with a lot of newcomers who would go on to be major stars. The most obvious of the bunch is John Travolta, who is shamefully given credit on the DVD even though he has only a few scenes (I hate it when studios do this). As a total punk who thrives on slapping around his girlfriend, Travolta is certainly amusing, but he's surrounded by a fine group of young actors. Allen -- who would have a brief stint as Mrs. de Palma -- is effectively nasty, while Katt and Irving play their roles with realistic conviction. Betty Buckley (The Happening) does a nice job as the empathic gym teacher Mrs. Collins and, yes, that's future John Hughes stock player Edie McClurg as Helen, the token chubby girl with big glasses.
Truth be told, time has not been kind to Carrie. Granted, the striped gym socks and card catalogs emphasize the mid-'70s to the max, but that isn't the film's fault. What is horribly dated is De Palma's technical touches, which are meant to be effective, but come off as thoroughly haphazard, even embarrassing. The dizzying dance between Spacek and Katt is a perfect example, as is the handling of the telekinetic scenes themselves, with the use of slo-mo and split screens particularly nauseating. Here again, aside from the two key sequences I mentioned before, there's really nothing here except a bland imitation of Hitchcock, an A-B-C treatment of the Master's craft which has almost no resonance today. I just don't understand why the talented De Palma can't trust his own vision and direction, as its almost always someone else's forged fingerprints imprinted on the celluloid.
Despite its high profile, Carrie makes its blu debut with middling results. Having none of the extras of the 2001 special edition, we are treated to a trailer-only travesty whose sole virtue is an outstanding 5.1 master lossless audio. Yes, Pino Donaggio is the only winner here, as his highly effective score meshes well with the film's eerie sound effects. No hisses or pops were detected, and you also have the choice of three more alternate tracks, with subtitles in five languages.
Oh, and the visual quality? The blu polish (1.85:1 non-anamorphic, 1080p, MPEG-4 encode) doesn't add much to De Palma's drab lighting schemes and flat color palette. The shades themselves are reasonably bright, but the contrast and detail is only barely satisfactory. What's shocking is the presence of scratches and white spots, which ultimately signals MGM's contempt for its consumers.
You could do a lot worse than buy Carrie on Blu-ray...like buying The Rage: Carrie 2 instead.
The film and its put-upon title character are free to go, but MGM is found guilty of an alarmingly weak Blu-ray presentation. Court is adjourned
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer