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MGM Studios DVD presents
Sue: "Tommy, if I asked you to do something very special for me, would you do it?"
DVD ReviewOf all the works written by the prolific Stephen King, only a few have actually made the transition to film successfully. For every good adaptation like The Green Mile, The Dead Zone, Shawshank Redemption, Firestarter or The Shining there was a clunker like Cat's Eye, The Langoliers, Sometimes They Come Back or Maximum Overdrive. Much of the success of King's works lies not in the visuals, but in the rambling thoughts and imaginations of his characters, which often makes executing a filmed version difficult. In 1976, when the movie version of his novel Carrie was released under the direction of Brian De Palma, it was apparent that there was very little lost in the translation from page to screen. Carrie would quickly become a landmark film for De Palma, and his place as a "name" director would be permanently set.
Working from a screenplay by Lawrence Cohen, who would later do the adaptation for King's It and The Tommyknockers, De Palma delivered a truly eerie film that can still provide thrills over 25 years after it's release. As with most book-to-movie projects, some liberties were taken, and some of King's original story was modified slightly. However, Cohen's screenplay of Carrie is very good, and character development and plot advancement happen without too much of the unnecessarily awkward exposition often present in book adaptations.
The film version of Carrie has almost become more famous than the novel, and it's tale has become the stuff of horror movie legend. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is the ultimate outcast; she is a lonely, picked-on teen at Bates High School. Carrie is gangly and shy, and as a result has no real friends. To make matters worse, she is burdened by her extremely fanatically religious mother Margaret (Piper Laurie). In the film's uncomfortably memorable opening sequence, Carrie begins to menstruate for the first time during a shower after gym class. Not knowing what is happening to her, she runs screaming into the locker room begging for help. Offering no sympathy whatsoever, the other students, led by uber-bitch Chris (Nancy Allen), proceed to taunt Carrie by chanting "Plug it up!" while hurling tampons at her. Chris and her cohorts, including Norma (P.J. Soles) and Sue (Amy Irving), mercilessly torment Carrie and it is only through the kindess of gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) that she is rescued, and sent home. Only home is no salvation, as Margaret heaps fire and brimstone religious wrath upon Carrie and brandishes her as a sinner.
De Palma neatly splits the unpleasant worlds of Spacek's character into school and home, with really no where for her to retreat safely to. After the incident in the shower, Carrie slowly discovers that she may have telekinetic powers, which are unleashed when she is angry. It is only when Sue, in an honestly sincere effort to redeem herself, offers up her hunky boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to take Carrie to the prom does the story move toward the now infamous prom sequence, orchestrated by Chris and dim-witted boyfriend Billy (John Travolta). In a horrible display of humiliation, Carrie is driven to the limits of her sanity and literally causes all hell to break loose.
Returning to screen for the first time since 1961s' The Hustler, Laurie turns into a stellar performance as Margaret. With her wild red hair, and a wonderfully evil smile, she breathes real heat into the ranting diatribes of the tyrannical Mrs. White, and her scene where she recalls her mixed feelings and sexual longing for her one-time husband is just chilling.
Spacek, once considered by De Palma for the role of Chris, will always be Carrie White to me. She perfectly nails the difficult role, and her transformation from shy, ugly duckling to prom queen candidate is both touching and terrifying, as we know something horrible is set to occur. Having seen Carrie a number of times since it's release, I'm still amazed at Spacek's performance.
Unfortunately the rest of the cast pale in comparison to Spacek and Laurie, and seem to contribute nothing less than genre-typical turns. It should be noted that Travolta's role is very brief, despite getting second billing on the DVD artwork. Not to mention that these are some of the oldest looking high school students I've ever seen. At the time of filming, all of the "students" were in their early to late twenty-somethings, with Spacek the oldest at 27.
De Palma contributes some of his trademark flashy camera work here, primarily during sequences in Carrie's home and during the prom, yet overall he plays it fairly straightforward. His camera work on the scenes inside the White home are incredibly dark and claustrophobic, and reflect the religiously creepy decorating style of Margaret (including one of the scariest Jesus figurines, complete with glowing eyes, in movie history).
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: MGM has presented Carrie in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While a slight improvement over an earlier DVD release of Carrie, there are still a number of nicks and scratches that appear throughout. The general color palette is muted, and it seems that MGM did not make any significant attempts at restoration. Blacks come across flat, with little in the way of contrast evident. Much of the problem is no doubt due in part to the film's age, though I wish MGM would have made more of an effort to restore this classic.
Not a world-class transfer by any means.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: One of the highlights of this release is the excellent 5.1 mix provided. Considering the lineage of Carrie, in terms of age and budget, the new audio transfer packs a decent wallop. While the rear channel effects are generally minimal, when used they are effective (specifically Piper Laurie's haunting voice). As with MGM's recent DVD release of De Palma's Blow Out, Pino Donaggio's Psycho-influenced score sounds occasionally tinny. As would be expected from a 1976 release there is sporadic hiss, but overall it sounded very clean.
Three mono mixes, in English, French and Spanish, are also provided.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Acting Carrie (43m)
The best of the bunch. Interviews with Brian De Palma, Lawrence Cohen, Sissy Spacek, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, Piper Laurie and P.J. Soles are featured, and cover everything from the casting process to the film's unexpected success. This is as close as I will probably get to a commentary track in my lifetime, so it goes without saying that this is great documentary.
Visualizing Carrie (40m)
This is a more technical discussion of Carrie, with De Palma, Cohen and production designer Jack Fisk. Also included are previously unseen stills and script excerpts from a series of deleted scenes featuring a young Carrie.
Carrie The Musical: (6m)
Cohen and Buckley reminisce (separately) about the ill-fated Carrie musical from the early 1980's. Unfortunately no footage or stills are available from the play, but Buckley's story about her role as Margaret made me want buy a ticket. Time for comeback!
Animated Photogallery: (6m)
Set to Pino Donaggio's score, this is an automated display of various production, behind-the-scenes and publicity stills from Carrie. I'm not generally a fan of still galleries, but this one was better than most, possibly because I didn't have to manually flip through each one.
Stephen King and The Evolution of Carrie:
This segment is all text, and is broken into three subcategories:
Stephen King and The Writing Of Carrie
From Novel To Script
Book and Film Comparison
Fairly self-explanatory, and while I dislike reading text on my TV screen, I did come away with some good info. Of special interest is the Book and Film Comparison section, which bullet-points the variations between King's book and De Palma's film.
A 5-page booklet of production notes is also included with this disc, and provide a nice cross-section of background information from De Palma, Spacek and Fisk. Very nice.
A nicked 1.85:1 theatrical trailer that is mindnumbing in it's use of key scenes is also included. As far as trailers go, this is a bad one.
A mesmerizing full-motion menu, which also reveals too much to the uninitiated, is a nice touch. A staggering 32 chapter stops and subtitles in French and Spanish round out this solid collection of bonus materials.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsCarrie is for anyone who has lived through high school, and witnessed the brutality of youth first hand. A spooky classic from one of my favorite directors. Spacek and Laurie are superb, and give Carrie real teeth. Plus, MGM has provided some terrific supplementals, though a De Palma commentary is still sadly lacking.
If you haven't seen it, this is the time. If you have seen it before, it's time you spent some time with Carrie again.
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