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Carrie
1976 - R - 98 Mins.
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Paul Monash and Brian De Palma
Written By: Lawrence D. Cohen
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, John Travolta, P.J. Soles
Review by: John Ulmer
   
The one thing that has haunted "Carrie" over the years is the most famous of all questions: Is it any good? There's no doubting the film's legend and popularity, but does it compare to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, or even a low budget slasher flick like "Halloween"? In short...no, not really.

It's a good film, to a certain degree, but it fails as a horror movie on more than one fundamental level (that being that it isn't scary). Some people love the work of Brian De Palma, and some don't. His fans believe that he is the next Hitchcock. Others think he is a poor man's rip-off.

Indeed, he does "borrow" quite a lot of pointers from Hitch in his films, particularly "Carrie," from the soundtrack to the style of the film. This is modern-day Hitchcock, complete with swearing and nudity too risqué for the likes of "Psycho." Perhaps, if Hitchcock were still alive, his films would be like this. Maybe. I don't really know. I do think, though, that De Palma's primary influence is definitely Alfred Hitchcock. Does he match his idol? Not really. I felt that he was just copying him during a lot of "Carrie." (Although I do love "Scarface" [1983] ever so much.)

One of the film's main flaws is Piper Laurie's mother figure in the film -- she comes off almost comical. Ironic, too, since Laurie herself was afraid that would happen after reading the script. And after reading some of Stephen King's novels myself, from "Misery" and "Cujo" and "Carrie" to "The Running Man" (under alias Richard Bachman), I can safely say that the man has a thwarted view of Christianity. As many people know, King is not exactly the poster boy for happiness and a clean mind. But he's always presented Christianity in his novels as that of heretics -- such as the mother in both his novel and film adaptation of "Carrie," who believes that growing "dirty pillows" and reaching puberty as a young woman is part of the devil's taunting.

Obviously King holds a grudge against personal beliefs such as Christianity (and probably other religions, too). I'm sure that he doesn't think he does, but if you thumb through any of his books you can see very clearly that the man is not one who appreciates many of the fine aspects of life, and is very, very dark. His hatred towards religion probably stems from his own personality.

Am I starting to sound like one of Stephen King's "Crazy Christians"? Sorry about that. I get carried away sometimes. Basically, the point is this: I can buy Piper Laurie's character in "Carrie" because I believe that there must be a few individuals as crazy as herself in this world. But I can't buy that every Christian in the world thinks puberty is the work of the devil. I myself am a Christian. If I thought the world was run by Satan himself, would I be writing movie reviews on secular films? No.

I have yet to meet someone like Margaret White (Laurie) from "Carrie." I hope I never do. And in the film, her character is so over the top that she does indeed come off quite silly as compared to the way she was supposed to strike the audience -- menacing and terrifying. But she does instill fear in her teenager daughter, Carrie (Sissy Spacek), who longs to form a public life like everyone else, but is haunted by her mother's incessant rants about the devil and such. She even locks Carrie up in a closet for hours on end so that she can pray to God.

But when Carrie is invited to the school prom, she disobeys her mother's commands and is delighted to be able to attend a public event with kids her own age. Unfortunately, the prom goes awry when Chris (Nancy Allen) and Billy (John Travolta, a year prior to his breakthrough in "Saturday Night Fever") pour hog blood all over Carrie when she accepts her crown as Prom Queen.

This is when Carrie snaps and unleashes her telekinetic powers upon her small town, burning the school gymnasium and all those inside it, then wandering the streets drenched in blood, causing road accidents and other such tragic events.

But Carrie is not evil. That is what the film tries to tell us, at least, and does a good job at doing so. The book is a bit different -- Carrie is a fat, ugly girl; not slim and pretty like Spacek -- but for the most part, it captures the same sense of empathy and innocence that the novel did. We don't see the bad in what Carrie is doing. We see the revenge. Just like we didn't think what Travis Bickle or Bill Foster did was necessarily anything "bad," what Carrie does in the film seems justified by the end. That's the only thing I can really credit this film for -- building a strong title character. The rest is pretty routine and weak.

This movie is carried by Sissy Spacek's performance, and for that I give it a solid recommendation. My mother met Spacek at a horse show in Virginia once, right before she was up for an Oscar a few years back. (She even got their encounter on videocassette.) In the heat of an Oscar race, one might expect that Spacek wouldn't be caught dead in a place such as a horse competition. Or one would expect her to at least look somewhat glamorous.

She didn't look glamorous. She looked absolutely normal. She was wearing nothing but a modest winter coat and some dirty jeans. No makeup. No bodyguards. No press. She was just standing there amongst the crowd. My mother spotted here before anyone else, but didn't want to attract attention to her, either. So she asked her quietly if it was she and her suspicions were confirmed. Spacek had come to watch her daughter ride in the same competition as my sister. "I loved you in 'Carrie,'" my mother told her.

And as she recalled the story to me, I thought, That's probably the compliment Spacek gets the most. She's a great actress, and certainly an honorable one. She's taken risky roles, such as that in "The Coal Miner's Daughter," but has yet to succumb to the standards of Hollywood. I wouldn't classify her as a mainstream actress. It's apparent that she hasn't had plastic surgery yet like most actresses her age. I respect that. I respect her work and her as an actress.

Sissy Spacek is the only thing that keeps "Carrie" from being another run-of-the-mill horror film with a few good ideas and an empathetic title character. The script is, for the most part, quite weak, and the acting ranges from great (Spacek) to clichéd (Allen as the nasty cheerleader). What surprises me most about "Carrie" is the impact it had and how it boosted Stephen King from being a lowly horror writer to his recent critically proclaimed title as "The King of Horror." I don't think he is, but that's an entirely different story.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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