Films based on Stephen King novels have a pretty dubious reputation, owing in no small part to it being very difficult to properly convey all the author’s nuances and longueurs in a feature film.
Still, the tradition hasn’t been all misstep, starting very strong in 1976 when King’s first novel, Carrie, was adapted to a film by up-and-coming auteur Brian De Palma. De Palma was fresh off three stylistic triumphs (Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, and Obsession) and looking to hit it big, and big is exactly what he hit. Now, to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary, Scream Factory is releasing a special edition Blu-ray.
Most people remember Carrie as the movie where a picked-on girl develops telepathy and wreaks havoc at her school on prom night. While that’s technically true, it’s also a deeply disturbing look at abuse, bullying, and female empowerment. In the first scene of the film, Carrie (Sissy Spacek) has that traumatic experience in the school locker room shower of getting her first period. (Realistically, she’s a bit too old to just be getting her period for the first time, but it’s emblematic of her beginning her ascent to womanhood, literally as well as figuratively.)
As the movie goes on, and she becomes less the outcast and the forcibly repressed daughter to a religious zealot (Piper Laurie in a gonzo-huge performance), Spacek is visually depicted as getting older and more mature as well. Subtly and gradually. At the beginning of the movie, she wears no makeup on dresses like a little girl. As she discovers her powers, De Palma steadily has her appear more and more grown-up. She dresses more maturely, puts on a bit of makeup, and even begins carrying herself differently. By the end, it seems like Carrie is going to come out ahead… but in typical De Palma fashion—in one of his best long-takes—we see it all be undermined by shitty teenagers and a bucket of pig blood (a cyclical reference to the earlier shower sequence). Carrie doesn’t shrivel, though, and no one is safe from her fire-and-brimstone-like wrath. Even those who were kind to her get caught in the crossfire.
De Palma’s work has steadily grown on me over the past few years, but Carrie is one that was undeniable from the start. This is the work of a true visual storyteller, and even his usual overly-showy filming techniques—the long-take and frantic split-screening—don’t get in the way too much here. Spacek gives one of the best performances by an actress of the 20th Century, resulting in an Oscar nomination, and Laurie completely earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Don’t underestimate this movie just because it’s 40 years old, because it still packs a major wallop.
The Scream Factory Blu-ray looks truly gorgeous, giving us a brand new 4K scan of the original negative. Carrie has been on HD before, but never this crisply. The movie looks and sounds flawless. The second disc offers a huge amount of interview extras, including a new 20-minute amalgam of actor interviews to go along with the 43-minute one from the 30th anniversary DVD which is also included here. On top of that, there’s lengthy interviews with screenwriter Lawrence Cohen, editor Paul Hirsch, director of photography Mario Tosi, casting director Harriet B. Helberg, and composer Pino Donaggio. There’s also a new edition of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, the series which takes audiences to the filming locations of classic horror movies.
The disc also includes archival extras like interviews with Brian De Palma, Jack Fisk, Lawrence D. Cohen, and Paul Hirsch, and a brief look at the failed Carrie musical. It’s truly a gargantuan amount of interviews, but for whatever reason, I found them all pretty flat and boring. This is exactly the kind of great extras package that Scream Factory does so well, and the quality of the presentation is still there; I just didn’t find anything particularly enlightening about any of the interviews. A more comprehensive documentary about the making of the movie, utilizing some of these interviews but not all of them, would have been a lot more lively. As it is, they just felt exhausting as well as exhaustive.
That being said, Carrie is a movie I’m very happy has been added to the Scream Factory catalog along with their other De Palma offerings (Phantom of the Paradise and Raising Cain) and is a flick that deserves to be seen in the best way possible.
Rating: 4 out of 5 burritos
Images: Scream Factory