Brian De Palma Month: “Carrie” (1976)

It’s Brian De Palma Month; of course I have to talk about one of his most well-received horror films.  De Palma struck gold when he chose to adapt this Stephen King story.  It was the first Oscar-nominated Stephen King adaptation, it started the career of Sissy Spacek, and it made over $33 million (on a budget of less than $2 million).  The movie is known by many as one of the scariest horror classics of all time; let’s figure out why.

Carrie (1976) is directed by Brian De Palma and written by Lawrence D. Cohen.  Stars-Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, John Travolta, Amy Irving, and Betty Buckley.  Premise-Socially inept Carrie White leads a tormented life.  She can unexplainably move things with her telekinetic mind, her religious zealot mother (Laurie) believes that everything Carrie does is a sin, the girls at high school bully her, and she is experiencing menstruation for the first time.  When a sick prank is pulled on her in a moment of ecstasy, Carrie will finally snap.

Stephen King novels have been adapted by so many excellent filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick, Frank Darabont, Rob Reiner, John Carpenter, etc.  I was quite excited to see De Palma’s style combined with King’s writing.  I have to say, the style of this movie is worth the 100 minutes.  The director has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock (who is actually a great inspiration to De Palma) in terms of how he creates suspense.  You can see the influence in Carrie.  The use of split screens, slow-motion, a terrific 360-degree spin shot, the quick editing, the amazing zoom-ins, and intensity is pure Hitchcockian inspiration.  The last third of this movie oozes with atmosphere and terror.

Bringing these characters to life is an ensemble cast.  The Oscar nominations were for Sissy Spacek (leading actress) and Piper Laurie (supporting actress).  The rest of the cast ranges from decent to below-average (ensemble ≠ well-utilized mind you), but Spacek and Laurie thoroughly become their characters.  Some would see their performances as over-the-top, but they have to read off of Stephen King dialogue, so cut them some slack.  Any time they share the screen is brutal to watch since Laurie’s character believes her daughter is possessed.  Safe to say, those nominations were well-deserved.

While I would have preferred there to be no problems with this movie, that is not reality.  For one, this movie is kinda dated.  The costumes, quality of the cameras, soundtrack, and slang are really cheesy.  I can forgive this, but the major problems lie in the screenplay (like the copious amount of filler).  I have not read the book, but I can definitely tell you that this movie reeks of Stephen King clichés.  Before you release the wrath of the langoliers on me, I’ll say that Stephen King is a good writer (no duh) with mountains of experience, and even more influence.  However, that does not mean he cannot repeat himself or make mistakes.  Each of the characters (except for Buckley’s PE teacher) is a trope.  Carrie herself barely has any character besides “social outcast with telekinesis,” which the movie “remedies” by beating her down.  Like, reeeeeeeaaaaaaallllyyy down (there is a lot of abuse in this movie).  I give credit to De Palma (for going all the way) and the devotion of Spacek and Laurie, but instead of wanting Carrie to get revenge, I felt extremely depressed.  We don’t get any reason to like her, she just gets beat up.  The beatings come from Nancy Allen’s one-dimensional bully, or her religious nut mother.

When it comes to Mrs. White (again, religious nut), I found myself quite annoyed.  At some point, it gets exhausting seeing this same cliché in Stephen King adaptations (i.e., Marcia Gay Harden in The Mist, the salesman in Maximum Overdrive, Annie Wilkes in Misery, etc.).  We do get some backstory of Mrs. White, but that is very close to the end of the movie.  If she had more development early on, it would have made a much stronger character.

Is this movie one of the best Stephen King adaptations?  Eh, maybe.  What I can tell you is that it’s not an in-depth look at teenagers and religious nonsense (which most critics like it for).  Movies like The Breakfast Club and The Exorcist are better looks at society and religion.  Whenever Carrie is brought up in a YouTube video, they almost always show the prom scene clip, because the first two thirds is mostly exposition.  That said this movie is iconic because of how unsettling, brutal, and terrifying it gets at points, and you can chalk that up to Brain De Palma’s talents.  Carrie (1976) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

P.S.  Sorry again for the late posting.  After watching Split (which you should watch), I kinda forgot about this review.  I will be doing something special for Split, which should be posted within the week.  Also, I have finished the Top Ten Worst 2016 Movies, and I’m currently working on the Top Ten Best 2016 Movies, those will be up next week.  Thank you.

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