'Carrie' is the ultimate fantasy-revenge flick, a grand guignol tale of teenage angst and fury so single-minded it instantly earned its place as a horror landmark. Audiences and critics expecting just another shoddily-constructed, no-budget exploitation cheapie were literally shocked out of their seats: produced independently for less than $500,000, 'Carrie' boasted no major stars (at least at the time) and was based on a novel written by a then unknown horror author named Stephen King. Its director, Brian De Palma, had previously helmed a few critical favorites but audiences had paid little attention, and the studio, United Artists, had so little faith in the picture it was backed by virtually no advertising campaign. But hell hath no fury like a telekinetic teenage girl scorned.
Over thirty years later, 'Carrie' is a virtuoso horror epic, an example of how style, wit, intelligence, and craft can elevate even the most potentially exploitative B-movie material to the level of pop art. King's first novel had a hook as simple as it was undeniably primal -- our glee in watching a tortured innocent at last exact her revenge upon the status quo. It was also infused with the elements of King's best work, a vaguely supernatural story staged in a mundane, believable milieu, tapping into our everyday fear of shame, alienation, abandonment, and untimely death. Add to that an amazing cast of future stars and Oscar-winners -- Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, PJ Soles, William Katt, and John Travolta -- and you have the makings of a true horror classic.
Although De Palma's dizzying cinematic bravura is sometimes excessive, it elevates 'Carrie' to the rarified plateau of a King adaptation that actually improves upon the original. De Palma pulls out every tick in the book in crafting the film's many now-famous setpieces. Highly-complex, intricately constructed, minutes-long sequences are staged in single shots. Clever uses of deep focus and extreme foreground/background framing constantly disorient our sense of perspective. Slow and fast motion keep the pace from lagging. And inventive split-screen (especially during the climactic prom massacre) facilitates a rarity in a mainstream genre picture -- multiple entry points for audience identification. It is an ingenious trick, allowing us to both empathize with and be terrified by Carrie's horrific reign of terror. Showy, yes (this is, after all, De Palma) but the perfect marriage of theme and technique, style and substance -- it deepens the film and brings it to the level of Greek tragedy.
De Palma's subsequent career has been dogged by comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock, and he has even been accused of ripping off his own style in his later thrillers. In 'Carrie' De Palma freely lifts from the master but does so with such youthful filmmaking passion and cinematic finesse that he is able to distill his influences and King's sensibilities into a single, unified whole. He may resort to the occasional cheap shot -- the film's highly-influential shocker ending is still a chair-jumper if a narrative dead-end -- but when it works, it works beautifully. 'Carrie' is indeed one of the seminal horror films of its era, and one of the best teen revenge dramas ever made.
MGM presents 'Carrie' in 1.78:1 matted widescreen, in 1080p/MPEG-2 video. Sadly, this movie has just never looked good on video. All past DVD and LaserDisc versions were grainy, soft, and marred by spotty prints. This Blu-ray is a tad bit better, but 'Carrie' just never quite makes it as solid high-def.
To be fair, the source used here is way better than I've ever seen it. It's still grainy and a bit dirty, but the major scratches are gone. Unfortunately, black levels can be pretty awful -- the movie often looks washed out, with obvious print fluctuations and poor contrast. Colors are vivid if smeary, with some noise present and noticeable bleeding. (Again, it still looks cleaner and far more stable than any previous video release. but that's not saying much.) Detail is middling -- the film is soft and flat, and fine details are often lost. Even close-ups rarely produced striking high-def images. This encode is fine, though again there's noise present and some motion artifacts during slow pans and other static shots. 'Carrie' is no prom queen on Blu-ray.
'Carrie' doesn't sound much better than it looks. MGM provides us with an English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track, but the movie really suffers from its age and low budget. It sounds like flat, tinny stereo.
Surround use is meager. Any discrete effects are clearly limited extractions directed to the rears. Sustained ambiance is largely absent. Worse, dynamic range is compressed and dated, resulting in irritating, brittle high-end. Low bass is likewise dull. None of this helps the very-'70s music score, which often sounds like bad porn movie music. At least the source isn't in terrible shape with no major dropouts or audible hiss. But 'Carrie' is hardly the kind of soundtrack that gets any benefit at all from the upgrade to high-res audio.
Wow, another bare bones MGM Blu-ray. Not a big surprise, but a real bummer. The standard DVD of 'Carrie' boasts a terrific supplement package, particularly its centerpiece retrospective documentary that features just about every major cast and crew member from the film. What's up with the Blu-ray hatin', MGM?
'Carrie' is a seminal horror classic of the 1970s. Sure, the clothes and hair are dated, and Brian De Palma sometimes overdoes the stylistic flourishes to the point of overkill, but 'Carrie' still works. It's still scary and boasts a fantastic cast (especially Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie in Oscar-nominated roles). Alas, this Blu-ray just doesn't deliver. The video is OK, the audio average, and the extras woeful. Really, MGM, $39.99 for such shoddy treatment? Sorry, but you deserve a date with Carrie to the prom.