Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #69
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: November 3, 1976
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $33,800,000
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Paul Monash
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen
Based on: Carrie by Stephen King
Special Effects: Greg Auer
Cinematography: Mario Tosi
Score: Pino Donaggio
Editing: Paul Hirsch
Studio: United Artists
Distributor: United Artists, MGM Home Entertainment, CBS/Fox Video (VHS)
Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, P. J. Soles, Priscilla Pointer, Sydney Lassick, Stefan Gierasch, Michael Talbott, Rory Stevens, Doug Cox, Harry Gold, Edie McClurg, Cindy Daly, Dierdre Berthrong, Katie Irving
Suggested Audio Candy
Pino Donaggio “Carrie”
Acceptance. That is ultimately what we all crave. Growing up, we just want to fit in, to be in on the joke rather than the butt of it. I know such because I was exactly the same, one of those desperate for folk to see what I saw in myself. I was a cool kid trapped in the body of a far less cool kid and, whilst not receiving particularly unfair treatment and certainly having no buckets of pig’s cruor precariously poised above my noggin, I did find it all rather disheartening.
One problem was that I didn’t grow into my skin until later, through school I was gangly and looked as though I needed a good hearty meal to beef me up. They call it ugly duckling syndrome and the kicker is that, once all the aesthetically pleasing kids ended up haggard by thirty, I hit my prime during college and began to turn a few heads for the first time in my existence. Still, the scars remained.
Carrie White was one such mallard. To be fair, she wasn’t given the best start in life as her religious fanatic mother kept her under lock and key and didn’t allow for her natural development. Kids can be cruel and she was reminded of such on a daily basis, shunned and nicknamed Creepy Carrie, the poor little bastard didn’t stand a chance. To add insult to injury, her malevolent ma recited verses from the good book whilst locking her away in the pantry for crimes unknown, all of which was having a profoundly disturbing effect on her already fragile psyche.
The opening scene of Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name tends to stick in the memory for two distinct reasons. Primarily it was a voyeur’s dream, panning shots of unclothed beauties in slo-mo the extra leer factor. It then doubled back like a rattlesnake as it went on to depict Carrie, showering in solitary, who took her first uncomfortable steps into young womanhood. It highlighted just how cruel a place school can be and also gave indication of her innocence as her mother hadn’t prepared her for any menstrual change. It still stands as one of the finest introductions ever conceived as its message resonates, regardless of your generation.
Technically, De Palma was dealing with a full deck. Mario Tosi’s cinematography was first rate, with wonderfully effective use of light and shadow and an ominous red tint during the legendary climactic showdown. Pino Donaggio was one of the most talented composers of the time and his complimentary and unobtrusive score fit hand in glove. Paul Hirsch’s editing was also exemplary, just as it had been on the previous occasions he had worked with De Palma.
The thing which really set Carrie apart was Sissy Spacek. The first female ever to be nominated for an Oscar for leading role in a horror film, her turn was beyond remarkable. There was no need for showboating and melodramatics, Spacek’s understanding of her character was entirely organic and came from deep within. It is difficult to imagine another actress who would have been able to pull off what she did here with anywhere near the level of subtlety. Fascinatingly, Melanie Griffith also auditioned for the role.
Likewise Piper Laurie’s performance as her rancorous so-called guardian Margaret was outstanding too and also earned her a nomination from the Academy. What was most terrifying about this abhorrent cunt of a woman was that there wasn’t a hint of caricature about her. I’ve actually known people more than vaguely similar in their prehistoric parenting approach although admittedly not quite as acute with their punishment. To call her a tad overbearing would be like branding Hitler a bit of a shit and the resulting scenes between her and rabbit-in-headlights Spacek were truly a joy to behold.
If risible teen fodder such as She’s All That is there to inspire then Carrie’s vision was one far bleaker. Her antagonists at school were smiling assassins and would stop at nothing to make her life miserable. They achieved this by accepting her into their ranks and giving her a glimpse of what it feels like to be popular, all the while scheming to pull the rug from beneath her in the harshest of fashions. They displayed varying degrees of conscience and Amy Irving’s Sue acted as important counter-balance but, ultimately, it was too little too late as we moved towards a conclusion which has long become one of the most famous in seventies cinema.
Her telekinesis was hinted at throughout but nothing prepared us for her metamorphosis from ugly duckling to beautiful swan and then to demented hell wench. De Palma never had an issue with wrapping things up and is known for his strong endings, and Carrie closed on the high that it had warranted, offering much food for thought and sending us leaping from our pelt in the process. The great King himself was more than contented with the ending and, indeed, the entire final product and, whilst Carrie has aged considerably, it still remains just as relevant as ever. The next time you’re going to steal another kid’s lunch money think twice.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: De Palma wasn’t overly concerned with grue although that bucket of blood is perhaps the most famous pale of crimson in movie folklore. Those who craved a little nubile co-ed nudity would barely have to await starter’s orders and it’s curious to me that, when I watched Carrie for the first time on VHS, I had to insert a head cleaner into my player before watching the intro.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™