Carrie (1976)

Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen (based on the novel by Stephen King)
Stars: Sissy Spacek (Carrie White), Piper Laurie (Margaret White), William Katt (Tommy Ross), Amy Irving (Sue Snell), Nancy Allen (Chris), Betty Buckley (Miss Collins), John Travolta (Billy Nolan)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1976
Country: U.S.
Carrie Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray
CarrieBecause teen horror movies have become such a commodified staple of the pop culture landscape, it is easy to overlook just what an accomplishment Brian De Palma’s Carrie, the one that started it all, really was. Meticulously designed and executed, Carrie is both an aesthetic tour de force—a masterwork of camera movement and editing and sound design to generate tension and suspense—and a prescient satire about what it means to be a teenager in America. What is most important about the film historically is the way it blew open both the horror and the teen genres by showing repressed supernatural fury going head-to-head with adolescent sadism. The story in Carrie is not so much about revenge as it is about unavoidable explosion. Revenge is something that is premeditated, thought-out, intentional; what happens at the end of Carrie is more akin to a canister of nitroglycerine that was finally shaken too hard.

Based on the first novel by a then-unknown writer named Stephen King, Carrie tells the story of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), a perennial outsider in her suburban high school (named Bates High, one of De Palma’s more overt Hitchcock allusions). Carrie has everything going against her: She is shy and awkward, and she doesn’t dress well or maintain herself physically (her face is almost constantly hidden behind stringy curtains of long hair). But, most of all, she projects weakness, and there is nothing that captures adolescent radar better than a weak kid who can serve as the scapegoat for all the other kids’ troubles and insecurities. Carrie is especially victimized by a beautiful female sadist named Chris (Nancy Allen), who develops a hatred for Carrie that eventually surpasses normal adolescent torture and enters the realm of sheer evil.

Carrie’s other major handicap is her mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), a religious fanatic whose mentally unbalanced behavior goes a long way toward explaining why Carrie is so insecure about herself. Margaret has instilled in her daughter a fear of everything, because to her, everything is a sin. She even goes so far as to lock Carrie in a broom closet for hours at a time, where she is forced to pray in front of a small, very creepy statue of St. Sebastian. Margaret has reason to fear her daughter because Carrie has the gift of telekinesis, which means she can move objects with her mind if she concentrates hard enough. Carrie’s telekinetic ability is thoroughly intertwined with her fragile emotional state, and it comes out in moments of great anguish—when her emotions get the best of her.

There are a few characters who look out for Carrie, the primary one being Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), the gym teacher, whose meanness toward the other girls is borne out of her disgust for the way they treat Carrie. Another is Sue Snell (Amy Irving), a popular girl who finally realizes just how cruel she and her friends (who include Chris) have been to Carrie. The turning point for Sue is the movie’s opening sequence, where all the girls in the locker room hurl taunts and jeers at Carrie after she has had her first period and, because her mother never told her about menstruation, panics because she doesn’t know what it is. Sue asks her boyfriend, a popular athlete named Tommy Ross (William Katt), to take Carrie to the prom in order to help her out socially, and Tommy grudgingly agrees.

Although he didn’t want to ask her, once at the prom, Tommy finds that he truly likes Carrie, and De Palma allows the sequence to develop in thoughtful, lengthy takes that emphasize the fairy-tale nature of the scenario. After years of torment and neglect, this American Cinderella finally gets what she deserves, especially when she and Tommy are voted king and queen of the prom. But, in a sudden and vicious turn, all of Carrie’s dreams are shattered in one horrific moment as it becomes clear that the whole thing has been a ruse, and Chris and her abusive boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) have set the whole thing up in order to dump a bucket of pig’s blood on her.

The searing image of Carrie standing on stage in her prom dress, drenched from head to toe in blood, with her striking blue eyes suddenly blazing outward in a trance-like fury, has become the perfect symbol for every adolescent who every felt picked on, tormented, or betrayed. At that moment, she literally ceases to be Carrie White and becomes an amalgam of every outsider’s most perverted fantasy of vengeance. De Palma, having carefully and methodically set up the prom sequence, lets everything come crashing down, aesthetically and physically, using the split-screen technique and rapid editing to convey the sudden pandemonium as Carrie, her telekinesis run amok, turns the school gymnasium into an inferno that consumes everyone, both friend and foe. This explosion of repressed anger and fear and sadness that literally burns up the senior prom, that most cherished of adolescent traditions, is one of De Palma’s most triumphantly perverse visions of hell let loose on America.

Carrie was a huge success in 1976—both commercially and critically—and it put both Stephen King and Brian De Palma on the map. King’s fervid, pulp-gothic imagination was perfectly realized on-screen in De Palma’s Hitchcock-influenced camerawork and his understanding of the underlying satire of it all. Carrie works because, underneath all the melodrama and gore, it is essentially a comedy about the ridiculous rites of American teenagerdom and the inherent sadism of some of our most cherished institutions and traditions. Too many movies have tried to follow in its wake by placing attractive teenage stars in pulpy horror stories, but few of them have managed to achieve De Palma’s intimate sense of how the horror and the humor work together to create a riveting experience that makes you both cringe and grin, sometimes at the same time.

Carrie Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • “More Acting Carrie” interviews with Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Edie McClurg and P.J. Soles
  • “Writing Carrie” interview with screenwriter Lawrence Cohen
  • “Cutting Carrie” interview with editor Paul Hirsch
  • “Shooting Carrie” interview with director of photography Mario Tosi
  • “Casting Carrie” interview with casting director Harriet B. Helberg
  • “Bucket of Blood” interview with composer Pino Donaggio
  • “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: Revisiting the Film’s Original Locations”
  • “Acting Carrie” interviews with Actors Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Priscilla Pointer and P.J. Soles And Art Director Jack Fisk And Director Brian De Palma
  • “Visualizing Carrie” interviews with Brian De Palma, Jack Fisk, Lawrence D. Cohen, Paul Hirsch
  • “Singing Carrie featurette
  • TV spots
  • Radio spots
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Carrie franchise trailer gallery
  • Still gallery
  • “Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie” text gallery
  • DistributorShout! Factory
    Release DateOctober 11, 2016

    Shout! Factory’s new Special Edition Blu-ray of Carrie marks a significant improvement over MGM’s 2008 Blu-ray, which replaced the previously available 25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD from 2001. Shout! Factory has gone back to the original negative for a new 4K scan and some obvious digital restoration, which has removed the signs of age and wear that marred some of the previous releases. The film itself is housed on a separate disc from all the supplements, thus allowing for maximum bitrate. The new transfer boasts excellent detail and strong colors that are particularly notable in the prom sequence, which features all kinds of gaudy red, blue, and green lights. Black levels are also much improved, with significantly better shadow detail and clearer contrast. The 2008 Blu-ray proved to be a bit muddy at times, and it also suffered from an overall reddish skew that made skin tones look unnatural and reds to bloom. That is gone now, replaced with a much better and more natural color scheme, as well as an overall brighter appearance that brings out more detail. This disc appears to maintain the same DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel mix from the previous release, which is absolutely fantastic. It is a great example of how much spaciousness can be brought out of an original monaural track if the job is done right. The fiery prom massacre is especially impressive, with the surround channels adding depth and scope to the visual pyrotechnics. The musical score, obviously inspired by Psycho’s shrieking violins, also sounds great, and the added channels give the shocking moments additional force. For purists, the original monaural soundtrack is included, as well.
    The impressive amount of supplementary material included on this release, which mixes the new with the old, is housed entirely on a separate Blu-ray. There are eight new featurettes included, along with TV spots, radio spots, and a Carrie franchise trailer gallery (1999’s The Rage: Carrie 2, the 2002 made-for-television movie, and the 2013 remake), none of which appeared on any of the earlier releases.

    First, the new featurettes, most of which are built around extended and more in-depth interviews with cast and crew who were previously interviewed for the 2001 DVD. “More Acting Carrie” (20 min.) expands on an earlier DVD supplement with new video interviews with Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Edie McClurg, and P.J. Soles; “Writing Carrie” (29 min.) is a new video interview with screenwriter Lawrence Cohen (29 minutes); “Cutting Carrie” (25 min.) is a new video interview with editor Paul Hirsch, a regular collaborator of De Palma’s starting with Hi Mom! in 1970; “Shooting Carrie” (15 min.), is a new video interview with director of photography Mario Tosi; “Casting Carrie” (16 min.), is a video interview with casting director Harriet B. Helberg, who was not interviewed in any of the earlier supplements; and “Bucket of Blood” (24 min.) is a new video interview with De Palma’s favorite composer Pino Donaggio, who was also inexplicably left out of the earlier supplements.

    Also included is an 11-minute episode of the series Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, in which creator and host Sean Clark revisits several of the film’s original locations, including Pacific Palisades, California, the location of the high school used for exterior school scenes and Sue Snell’s house (which has since been completely rebuilt); Santa Paula, California, location of the White house (now an empty lot), the tree-lined street Carrie walks down after school, and the downtown street where Tommy goes to rent a tux; Vernon, California, home to the film’s still-standing pig farm; and, finally, the Hermosa Beach Community Center and Museum, which stood for the school gymnasium where the prom took place.

    Shout! Factory’s disc also maintains all of the supplements from the 2008 MGM Blu-ray, all of which were originally created for the 2001 Special Edition DVD. First up are two in-depth retrospective documentaries about the making of the movie produced and directed by Laurent Bouzereau, who wrote The De Palma Cut, one of the first in-depth scholarly analyses of De Palma’s films, as well as The Cutting Room Floor, a book about the MPAA ratings system and the effect it has had on many notable films, including De Palma’s. In the Acting Carrie (43 min.), Bouzereau rounded up almost every principal actor in the movie for interviews, including Sissy Spacek, Betty Buckley, Piper Laurie, William Katt, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, and P.J. Soles (notably absent is John Travolta). Also included are Brian De Palma, screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, and art director Jack Fisk. The actors reminisce about the making of the movie, how they were cast in a dual casting session run by De Palma and George Lucas, who was casting for Stars Wars at the same time (apparently, Katt was up for the role of Luke Skywalker), and how De Palma mostly left them alone in their acting and focused on his camerawork. De Palma’s camerawork and Jack Fisk’s art direction and production design are the focus of Visualizing Carrie (40 min.). Several of the actors are also featured in interviews here, as they discuss De Palma’s unique visual style and how he constructed Carrie into an aesthetic tour de force. Like the other documentary, this one is full of memorable anecdotes and trivia, such as how De Palma came up with the idea for Margaret White’s crucifixion-like death and how the special effects were achieved. This documentary is also notable for containing an extended discussion of a much-talked-about deleted opening scene that showed Carrie as a small child bringing a hail of stones down on her house (I assume the scene itself has been lost, but several still images are featured). “Singing Carrie is a brief 6-minute featurette on the ill-fated 1988 musical adaptation of Carrie, one of the truly legendary bombs in Broadway history. It offers a few minutes of an interview with Cohen, who essentially blames the musical’s failure on the fact that the director was British and didn’t know what a prom was, and Betty Buckley, who appeared on-stage as Margaret White.

    Also included on the disc is “Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie,” a three-part text-only section written by Bouzereau that focuses on how King wrote his first novel, how Cohen adapted it into a screenplay, and a comparison of the differences between the book and the movie, and two stills galleries, one of production photos and one of posters and lobby cards.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © MGM / Shout! Factory

    Overall Rating: (4)

    James Kendrick

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