ReelReviews #16: Carrie (1976)

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APRIL 16, 2013 SCREENING: CARRIE (1976)

 

Stephen King novels have always been hit or miss for me, and adaptations of his novels usually end up the same way. Some movies based on Stephen King stories are masterpieces, while others are total garbage. As Stephen King is perhaps the most successful horror writer in history, this gives me a kind of love-hate relationship with his work. My experience with King is a bit unusual because I adore the 1986 adaptation of Firestarter, which King himself considered to be one of his weaker novels. Yet for years, I had never read the “classic” King novel that handled a similar subject matter: Carrie, which was the author’s first published novel. Nor had I ever seen the original 1976 movie it was based on, despite the fact it is now considered a bonafide classic that is legendary for being the first in a long line of King novels turned into movies. With the 2013 remake recently arriving on DVD, I decided to bring myself up to speed with a marathon of all three versions of Stephen King’s Carrie. The results were quite surprising.

For starters, I usually object to remakes because the original is still effective with modern audiences, and this one of the reasons I reacted negatively when I found out they were remaking the 1976 movie. The 70s were very much an era where horror films as we know them today came into existence, and surely the original Carrie is a timeless classic up there with Halloween or The Exorcist, right? Wrong. Much of the 1976’s Carrie screamed dated 70s cheese for me, and I actually felt while watching it for the first time that the movie just wouldn’t work for today’s audiences.

Carrie is directed by Brian de Palma and it has some genuinely good moments of suspense, usually involving foreshadowing of what will occur later on. The opening credits sequence is shocking for the wrong reasons – it contains some casual full-frontal nudity of “teenage” girls (obviously actresses in their 20s and 30s, by the way) in a shower room, and its done in slow motion with some soft dreamy music track and all the ladies don’t seem to shave much when it comes to body hair. This definitely screamed 1970s for me, but it seemed more like a softcore porno than a horror movie, and its certainly one element that would be left out of the remakes and not shown to audiences today.

Many of the problems I had with Carrie is the “comic relief” used to break up the tension simply isn’t funny (although one sequence – where a group of teenage girls that tormented Carrie are forced to do outdoor exercises – is brilliantly realized). Conversely, many parts of the film that are supposed to be deadly serious and creepy just come across as silly and over the top. A particularly weak point for me was Piper Laurie as Carrie’s zealously religious and overprotective mother who snaps by the end of the movie. She’s supposed to be frightening and unpredictable, but Laurie overacts to the point of absurdity and presents her as a batshit crazy one-dimensional caricature of “religious zealot” from the start. It’s very much in the vein of Faye Dunaway’s later performance as Joan Crawford in 1981’s Mommie Dearest. Yet for some bizarre reason, Dunaway’s performance gets ridiculed while Laurie’s gets praised. As for me, I just found myself snickering during moments that were supposed to be chilling, especially one scene where a wide-eyed Laurie mumbles “Thou shall not suffer a witch!!” in hysteria over her daughter’s telekinetic powers.

What really worked for me was the climax of the film. The payoff was absolutely worth it, and I believe its the reason why the movie is so fondly remembered today. Everything leading up the famous “prom scene” where Carrie is covered in pig’s blood and unleashes her vengeance wasn’t working for me. But the climax was strangely “realistic” for me, and I totally bought the idea that the character of Carrie had genuinely gone into a rage and was extracting her revenge with supernatural powers. Sissy Spacek was too old for Carrie and fairly bland and whiny through most of the movie, but when she turned into hate-filled vengeful bitch on a rampage at the end of the movie, it was genuinely disturbing and unnerving – particularly the way she just stood there and glared at people in anger, while things would happened around them like water pipes bursting and doors slamming shut. The practical effects of the 70s worked far superior than the typical fake CGI we see in today’s horror films.

Apparently the final image of the movie – SPOILERS! – where Carrie’s hand reaches up from the grave – was a landmark moment in film as it had never been done before and shocked audiences in 1976. Sadly, it doesn’t work at all in 2013, precisely because its predictable and has been used over and over again in other horror movies over the years. Carrie has some good stuff scattered throughout and an iconic scene in the school’s gym towards the end, but I simply wouldn’t rank this movie up there with other Stephen King movies that were great from start to finish like The Shining, Misery, Stand By Me, etc., etc. Carrie is an interesting film, but now a curiosity piece of 70s cheese. I simply wouldn’t consider it a horror classic.

 

** ½ out of ****

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