Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Film Appreciation - Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live

This week in Film Appreciation, we see if Jay Burleson can survive prom in the 1976 horror film Carrie.

The world of Stephen King has given me many scares throughout my life. Pet Semetary and IT were two books I could never make myself read as a child; though I would peek through certain chapters. The IT TV movie was a constant in my life as my family watched it every time it aired. It scared me so much that I'd have to leave the room in the later viewings because I knew what was coming would scare me shitless. I finally did muster the courage to read the screenplay for Storm of the Century in 5th grade. When it comes to Carrie though, I don't think of Stephen King as much as I think of my mom. Sometime or another during my childhood I know that she directed me toward the movie. It's only been within the last few years that I really grew to appreciate it. King, who would have chucked the first few pages of Carrie in the trash had it not been for his wife's persistence on the matter, has a great way of tackling high school themed horror stories that really resonate with me, Carrie and Christine being the two that come to mind.

The film version of Carrie is directed beautifully by Brian De Palma. I always loved his use of split screen in this film but he does everything pretty well here and I'm a big fan of his shot composition. I adore so many of the shots, from the opening high angle view of the volleyball game before the camera pans down to Carrie, to the chaotic split screens that are used so well during the prom meltdown. The entire film is beautifully shot and the cinematography from Mario Tosi is top-notch.

I never really cared a great deal for the main aspect of the story, the telekinetic powers that Carrie possesses. There was something so earnest and forthright about everything else in the film that the "horror" took a backseat for me. With that said, it's how well everything else plays that makes the telekinetic stuff work the way it does. The really scary stuff comes in the form of Carrie's mother, Margaret. Piper Laurie plays the part and does a good job at being a creepy religious nut who has raised her daughter in such a strict fashion that she is clueless about the world in which she lives. Not only that but she has considerably damaged Carrie mentally and this has followed her to school where she is constantly bullied and ridiculed. Sissy Spacek is terrific as Carrie. She displays so much vulnerability in the part. This combined with knowing the type of home that she grew up in makes it extremely hard to look at her in a negative light despite the horror that she unleashes upon her classmates. A young John Travolta and Halloween co-star PJ Soles pop up here as two of Carrie's classmates, though I can't say I cared much about their fate. The ringleader of the Carrie haters is played by Nancy Allen, who also co-starred in the subject of my previous film appreciation, RoboCop.

Two co-stars that I love in this film are Betty Buckley and William Katt. Buckley plays one of the teachers at Carrie's school whom encourages Carrie to stop moping around so much and is happy for her when she announces that she's going to prom with William Katt's character, Tommy Ross. As Carrie's date to prom, Ross is first questionable in his motives but only grows more and more likeable as the film goes on. The two of them dancing together at prom is a really solid moment in the picture.

To me, Carrie is a great representation of how classy horror films can be. Spacek and Piper Laurie both got Oscar nominations for a film based around a teenage girl getting her first menstrual cycle and the telekinetic powers that seem to come along with it. That says a lot about how well done this is, not because it's an altogether hokey story but because it could have been much, much less in other hands. As it stands though, the film is a classic of the genre and is definitely a marvelously crafted film.

1 comment:

  1. I waish I loved this movie the way most King fans (and most horror fans) do. But I don't. I like aspects of it -- Sissy Spacek, for example -- but detest others. Example: Piper Laurie. She's awful. AWful. Campy, at best; and I don't particularly want camp from this story.

    There's no denying that it's an iconic piece of cinema, though. And it helped make my favorite author a household name, so I'm grateful for that if nothing else!