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Click above to purchase "Carrie: Special Edition" at amazon.com

 

Carrie
Special Edition

review by Anthony D.

 

Rated R

Studio: MGM

Running Time: 98 minutes

Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, John Travolta

Screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen
From the novel by Stephen King

Directed by Brian DePalma

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Three New Documentaries: "Acting Carrie", "Visualizing Carrie", "Singing Carrie", Animated Photo Gallery, Stephen King Biography, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, English, French and Spanish Mono, English Closed Captions, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Scene Selections

Stephen King's mind may have given her birth, but in the hands of Brian DePalma "Carrie" came to magnificent life. A mature macabre tale which most adults can identify, whether once the givers or receivers of hurtful high school antics. Herein Carietta White is the victim, make that VICTIM. She lives with her single mother, Margaret whose religious fervor and fanaticism hasn't earned her much respect in the small town where they reside. Carrie is the epitome of repression, sexual and otherwise. She dresses in ill-fitting clothes sewn by her mother, whose fashion sense is as outmoded as her revivalistic take on religion. Carrie can't even hit a volleyball on the court during gym class. Constant brow-beating at home, coupled with the complete contempt of her peers has so introverted Carrie that a mouse has more character. But suddenly with the onrush of her womanhood, the flow which comes from Carrie is not merely resigned to flesh and blood; for with the coming of menses, Carrie's subconscious creates a telekinetic power capable of annihilation in epic proportions. It is a power which comes with the blood, a power (if Margaret White is to be believed) that started with Eve and has transcended through the bloodlines of the weaker sex.

When Lawrence D. Cohen adapted King's debut novel for the screen, he chose to concentrate on the power of the blood, and director DePalma lays out that sanguine fluid in gothic over saturation. Once Carrie's own menstrual blood is displayed in the shocked and traumatized hands, the image of blood remains a constant factor in the dialogue as well as cinematography. It's a Grand Guignol device that enriches this inside-out take on the classic "Cinderella" story, and turns it on its ear. For who is Carrie, but a modern-day Cinderella, who gets her chance to go to the ball, be treated as royalty (she is elected Prom "Queen") until... (it's no wonder that "Carrie" has registered with so many young women who were raised on that fairy tale)...well, Carrie's midnight revenge is a far cry from Cinderella's "they lived happily ever after."

I believe that "Carrie" has become a part of our national consciousness, so only a brief plot outline should suffice: The pathetic Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) literally becomes a woman under the cleansing school locker room showers. Thinking that her ignorance of things sexual is a reason for mockery, the girls (led by Sue Snell and Chris Hargenson) toss tampons at her with the chant-like cries of "Plug it up!" Carrie's agony grows and an electric light blows up. Kindly gym teacher, Miss Collins, reprimands the girls, and comforts Carrie. In the principal's office, the many mistakes of the principal calling her "Cassie," causes an ashtray to fling itself from the desk. As Carrie walks home, a child on a bike calls her "Creepy Carrie!," and is promptly thrown by some force from his bike.Carrie is sent home to her strange mother, who proclaims that with the blood come the boys. Margaret advises Carrie to pray. Carrie stares into a mirror which violently breaks.

Miss Collins doles out a week-long detention and loss of prom tickets for the shitty thing that the girls did to Carrie, and as she takes on the force of a drill sergeant, Chris vows revenge while Sue thinks of a better plan. Sympathetic to Carrie's plight, Sue has her boyfriend Tommy, a guy with looks and brains, ask Carrie to be his date for the prom. After much cajoling, Carrie relents, if only so that Margaret will not see him at their door. In the meantime, Sue's plan for revenge takes on a diabolical tone, as she has her boyfriend slaughter several squealing pigs.

When the prom day arrives, Maragaret is shocked by Carrie's hand-made pink dress, calling it red, the color of sin - - and begging Carrie to stay at home and pray with her, lest everyone laughs at her. Carrie and Tommy are the hit of the prom, if only because of a stuffed ballot-box, and are crowned king and queen. Then in a stunning display of film making, Chris' plan is set in motion. With the tug of a rope, a bucket of pig's blood drenches Carrie - - and everybody laughs at her. Wrong thing to do, as Carrie's telekinetic powers now seem to have a life of their own: she creates a holocaust at the prom, dispenses with the villains and returns home to a purifying bath. Instead of comforting Carrie in her moment of despair, Margaret plunges a kitchen knife into her, declaiming Biblical verse "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Carrie and Margaret remain in locked in turmoil as the house itself implodes upon them and rocks torrentially pour down from the skies. Following a peaceful moment, DePalma still has one last shock up his sleeve.

I could go on forever about the incredible cast "Carrie" contains. Following a fifteen year, self-imposed retirement, Piper Laurie returned to the screen as Margaret White. It is a role that re-identified her, and re-affirmed her status as one of the un-heralded great film actresses. In a tricky role, Laurie is allowed her over-the-top moments of religious fervor which in lesser-talented hands would cause unintentional gales of laughter (as it is, the laughter is earned as that thin line between fantasy and illusion is trod). Laurie's peers were in on the joke, as they rewarded her with a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Two television stars, ironically linked to the same ABC series, launched commendable careers with "Carrie:" Betty Buckley and John Travolta. (Travolta was engaged to "Eight is Enough" star Diana Hylands, whose untimely death brought Buckley to the Bradford fold as stepmother Abby). Buckley portrays the only sympathetic character in the film - - the gym teacher Miss Collins, with an utterly believable empathy, while Travolta plays upon his "Welcome Back Kotter" sweathog persona as Chris' partner in love and crime, Billy Nolan. In a very strange turn of events, Betty Buckley would become further associated with "Carrie" for all time, when she took over the role of the musical Margaret White in an infamous theatrical fiasco, more on that later. Amy Irving is stunningly beautiful, baby fat and all, as the remorseful Sue, whose story arc is well-developed right on through to the final zinger. Irving's real life mother, Priscilla Pointer, plays her on screen alcoholic mother in two brief but telling scenes. Making their debuts in film are a trio of gals who would continue the bloody reign at the box office: Nancy Allen as Chris has the difficult task of making the villainy inflicted believable, she would fare better in "Dressed to Kill" and "Blow Out," also for DePalma; P. J. Soles as a classmate with an agenda would go on to baby-sitting immortality in John Carpenter's "Halloween;" and most surprising of all, is a very youthful Edie McClurg, best know today for her voiceover work, but directed brilliantly by Oliver Stone in his blood-fest, "Natural Born Killers" (she's Juliette Lewis' mother in the faux sitcom sequence "I Love Mallory). William Katt has just the right amount of surfer boy charm as Tommy Ross, who also falls victim to Chris' vengeful plot.

And then there's Sissy Spacek's titular turn: face it, without Sissy, "Carrie" would be just another teen horror flick. With Spacek, then mostly unknown, Carrie takes on character. There is not a single moment of Spacek's Carrie that rings false, she is that immersed in the role. And those eyes! Soulful when listening to a poem by Tommy Ross, scornful when she realizes the implications of the bucket of pig's blood. Wide open beneath a shimmering veneer of blood as she makes the most of her revenge - - there's not a trace of pleasure in her deeds, it's a demonical gaze that demands these deaths, as if in a catatonic state Carrie's revenge is swift, powerful and non-judgmental (when the only person who has been kind to Carrie is cut in half by a basketball hoop board, you know that this comeuppance is non-selective) . Spacek's Carrie does not thrive on this violence as say an action hero would knowingly gloat over such bloodshed; this holocaust is a necessary evil, and her Carrie carries it off to the best of her abilities. In a very rare moment of lucidity, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rewarded Spacek's brilliance with an Oscar nomination as Best Actress - - a feat never accorded to stars of "horror" films, and would not be repeated again until Jodie Foster's nomination and win for "The Silence of the Lambs."

Though far from perfect, as the film makers attest in the Special Features, "Carrie" is still a remarkable achievement, and a seminal moment in horror film history.

Aside from being in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), MGM's presentation of "Carrie" obviously comes from the same source as the previous no-frills edition released only a couple of years ago. The same artifacts are there (the "creepy Carrie" scene, Chapter 3 still has that same little white speck on the right hand side), and the film still looks dated. The soft focus photography notwithstanding, "Carrie" constantly looks very subdued. Of course once that final bloodbath begins (Chapter 27), the reds are vibrant and intense without bleeding (hey! I made a pun). If only the remainder of the presentation were this good. The black level seems weak, most notably in the ambient-lit dinner table scene in Chapter 17. Contrast is inconsistent, too, with some minor bleaching from light sources. For all the red-blooded males out there, the shower scene is likely to be a disappointment with its distracting artifacting. "Carrie," being the most put-upon film lead until "Breaking the Waves," should deserve a better presentation than this.

A very exciting soundtrack only adds to the enjoyment of "Carrie," and that would be the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which was also used for the previous DVD. Of course, it pulls out all the stops only when Carrie herself does - - the prom is alive with surround activity - - there are a few choice scare tactics employed prior to the climactic scene. I must say that the use of Bernard Herrman's strings from "Psycho" take on a life of their own with this mix. There is some noticeable hiss, and like other MGM remixes, the music often threatens to drown out the dialogue, but on the whole this is a great mix. The original mono track is also available, and, surprisingly, one can toggle between all the language tracks (which include the French and Spanish language versions of "Carrie"). I gave the foreign language tracks a round or two, and found the voice casting to be interesting, the French and Spanish Carries being heavier on the "little girl" voice, while the music itself is harsh, tinny and distorted.

Even without a Director's Commentary from DePalma, "Carrie" carries a bundle of features which can truly be called "special." Commencing with three brand new documentaries filmed for this release by Laurent Bouzereau; with not a single fluff-piece amongst them, they are more than satisfactorily geared at making "Carrie" special. Acting Carrie runs forty-three minutes, and presents nearly all of the cast members in newly shot interview segments. John Travolta, who is second billed on the dvd, but introduced in the Original Theatrical Trailer, is conspicuously absent; thus making this a very distaff version of the making of the film. Joining leading actresses Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are supporting cast members Priscilla Pointer, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, P. J. Soles, William Katt and Betty Buckley. The then-youthful cast astonishingly has become the still-youthful cast. I'm sure that many viewers will be taken aback by Nancy Allen's startling appearance. Tales of comradery and directorial decisions punctuate this very informative special feature. Betty Buckley discloses that even though "Carrie" was her on-screen film debut, she had previously worked for DePalma, looping various character voices in his "Obsession" and "Phantom of the Paradise." (This of course was a major surprise to me, since I've had the pleasure of sharing Betty's company after several concert gigs, and have had various conversations with her about her voice-over work in film, which until now, I thought was exclusive to Milos Forman's musical film "Hair"). Spacek, Laurie and Buckley haave the lion's share of interview sequences, and justifiably: their story-telling skills combined with their professionalism have earned them accolades for their continued work following "Carrie." I found that the reminiscences of the casting to be very interesting as well, as "Carrie" was cast concurrently with George Lucas' "Star Wars." (Somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away an alternate universe exists wherein "Carrie" has been filmed with Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill). This feature, along with its mirror feature Visualizing Carrie employ enough scenes from the film itself to validate the points being made. Visualizing Carrie delves into the depths of artistry behind the scenes that went into the making "Carrie." Through the use of stills and script pages, the viewer is shown the original opening sequence of "Carrie," which, if you've read the book know that it involves stones falling from the sky. The sequence is only hinted at in King's novel, but the screenplay provided an apt visualization, with ironic echoes to later scenes. Editor Paul Hirsch and Brian DePalma relate film making secrets employed to give "Carrie" its Gothic Opera visual tone. Dick Fisk, production designer and husband of Sissy Spacek, provides interesting trivia about his work - - and locations - - used for filming "Carrie." Who knew that "Twister" and "Titanic" star Bill Paxton actually worked on "Carrie" as a location scout, running around Los Angeles with his 8mm camera? Much is made about the shock value of the female nudity, in both documentaries, within the film's first major sequence by film editor Paul Hirsh and DePalma himself. The ladies recall their terror at the prospect of such abundant nudity so early in their careers; Hirsch relates the camera techniques used to achieve this seminal DePalma moment. Hirsh and DePalma both decry the use of split-screen for "Carrie's" rage sequence, the device does distance the action when, of course, the action needs to be specific, if not one-on-one. Finally, Betty Buckley fans and nay-sayers against the film itself, are given quite a validity to the onscreen demise of one of the few characters in the film who has actually been good to Carrie. Much has been made of the lack of redemption in "Carrie," and I myself still question this total annihilation of both GOOD and BAD (there is no real "evil" within "Carrie), but a satisfactory reasoning is offered up by the film makers, which may assuage many other doubters. Both are very finely produced, and directed, documentaries not to be missed.

As if those two documentaries weren't enough, there is still a third six minute featurette, Singing Carrie, which features screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and Betty Buckley discussing - - are you ready for this? - - CARRIE: the musical! Musical theater mavens know this show very well, despite it being one of the costliest shows ever to reach a Broadway stage to fall flat on its face. Outside of the theater world, very few people know that "Carrie" was musicalized, and when mentioned that it was, usually greeted with an unmistakable look of "What the f*** were they thinking?" Cohen tells us exactly what the musicalizers were thinking, that here was an operatic piece, comparable to Berg's "Lulu," which could find an audience. Cohen places the blame entirely on the director (who is never mentioned by name: Terry Hands) who had never even been approached to direct a musical before. (Ken Mandlebaum's brilliant book "Not Since CARRIE: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops" devotes two entire chapters to this theatrical misfire; including a complete rundown of the musical's action). I'm certain that composers Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford ("Footloose" "Fame) didn't allow the documentarian access to scenes from the musical (they've not granted performance rights to the musical since the debacle on Broadway), but some still shots would have been nice. As one of the lucky owners of two complete audio tapes (London and Broadway) as well as a cast member's videotape of the first act of the musical, I have to say that, to quote the musical's tagline, "There's never been a musical like CARRIE;" but Cohen's parting remark grants hope that a revival might just happen in my lifetime. Buckley only gets to relate one musical tale, but it is killer!

"Carrie's" Original Theatrical Trailer is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), and is in very good shape. Presented by a sonorous male voice-over, the trailer gives just enough information without divulging too much. I do however, like the fact that the trailer dispenses with John Travolta's screen appearance in "The Devil's Rain," and proclaims that "Carrie" is his motion picture debut! Another six minutes is given to the Animated Photogallery (MGM's spelling) featuring behind the scenes photos (it's nice to see a smiling Piper Laurie and a not-tto-serious Spacek), production stills, promotional artwork as accompanied by Pino Donaggio's haunting score.

Finally, credit is given where credit is due with an informative text offering Stephen King and the Evolution of "Carrie." Divided into three sections, "Stephen King and the writing of "CARRIE," "From Novel to Screen," and "Book and Film Comparison," which provide information not given on A & E's "Biography" series. With features such as the above, the nomenclature "Special Edition" is earned.

Despite the transfer's deficiencies, with nearly two hours of excellent Special Features, this "Carrie" does eliminate the need for the previous DVD. I won't be getting rid of mine, however, as my "Carrie" cover is inscribed with "Love, Betty Buckley," allowing me to own two Very Special Editions of "Carrie." And with a price tag five dollars lower than the previous non-special edition of "Carrie," this prom date will be a night to remember.

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)

(3/5)

(4/5)

(3/5)

(4/5, NOT an average)

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