Based on the best-selling Stephen King novel, this "absolutely spellbinding horror movie" (Roger Ebert) has become a pervasive, pop-culture touchstone for anyone who's ever wanted to get even. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie deliver Oscar-nominated performances and John Travolta and Amy Irving are terrific in this ultimate revenge fantasy that has become one of the all-time great horror classics, and is now, finally, offered as a definitive, two-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray!
At the center of the terror is Carrie (Spacek), a high school loner with no confidence, no friends... and no idea about the extent of her secret powers of telekinesis. But when her psychotic mother and sadistic classmates finally go too far, the once-shy teen becomes an unrestrained, vengeance-seeking powerhouse who, with the help of her "special gift," causes all hell to break loose in a famed cinematic frenzy of blood, fire and brimstone!
"I should've given you to God when you were born, but I was weak and backsliding, and now the Devil has come home. We'll pray."
It's a bit odd when you realize that an author's works have dominated book shelves, movie theaters, and television screens for your entire life. I was born into the world of Stephen King. For years, all I knew was my dad reading his books and my sister watching the movies I couldn't see. It's amazing that one little book, one the author actually initially threw into the wastebasket could have such an impact on pop culture. That little book was titled 'Carrie' and was a phenomenal hit, catapulting a struggling novelist into the spotlight. That book's successful film adaptation helped make Stephen King a household name. 40 years later this film has left an indelible mark on the face of horror and has survived sequels and remakes and still serves as a high point for 1970s horror. Four decades on and Brian De Palma's shock show still packs an emotional and visceral punch.
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is not your normal average healthy hormonally-driven 17-year-old girl. She desperately would like to be like everyone else if for no other reason that it would stop the onslaught of bullying. Day after day she has to endure the terrible treatment of popular girls like Chris (Nancy Allen) and her friend Norma (P.J. Soles). Even good girls like Sue (Amy Irving) get in on tormenting poor Carrie because it's better than catching the wrath of Chris and Norma. One day after gym class, Carrie gets her first period, a perfectly natural occurrence for most girls - but Carrie has no idea what is going on. She doesn't know that the blood is normal and that she isn't dying. Her reaction causes Chris, Norma, and the rest of the girls in the shower room to go full out with their torment tossing tampons and pads at the cowering terrified young woman. While kind-hearted teachers like Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) try to help Carrie, her troubles go far deeper and start at home with her domineering hyper-religious mother Margaret (Piper Laurie).
But something else beyond becoming a woman happened to Carrie that terrible day in the shower. During her emotional outburst, an overhead light burst into a shower of glass. Later in the Principal's office, an ashtray overturned on its own. While seemingly innocent and random events, Carrie starts to become aware that she may be the cause of these strange occurrences. As she sets to learn more about psychic phenomena, Sue and her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) try to make things right. At the urging of Sue, Tommy asks Carrie to the prom so the troubled girl can for once in her life experience what it's like to be a normal kid. At first, Carrie is reluctant, but the idea of acceptance and being a part of her peers is too much to resist - even if her mother has strong objections. As she plans to create the perfect evening for herself away from her mother's influence, Carrie is unaware that Chris and her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) have their own bloody plan to ruin Carrie's big night.
Considering that this story has held such a prominent position in the cultural zeitgeist and that this film is celebrating its 40th anniversary, virtually everyone knows the story of Carrie White and her tragic first prom. While I'll continue to talk about the film in my traditional spoiler-free way, I know that my vagaries about plot points and incidents may be unnecessary. However, if there is just one person out there who somehow hasn't read the book, seen the movie, the remake, the sequel, or the latest remake - I have to hold back because I don't want to spoil a single thing for anyone. Suffice to say, I have a deep love and respect for this movie and the book that spawned it. It wasn't the first Stephen King film I ever saw, nor was it the first novel of his I ever read, it's simply the one I relate to the most. I was a kid that was near-endlessly bullied towards the end of middle school and into high school. While things did eventually get better for me, I've always looked at Carrie White as a character that was very easy to empathize with. I may not have had a religiously abusive parent, but I understood the scholastic torment. To that point, when Carrie's powers manifest in all their glory and she's able to enact her form of psychic-fueled vengeance, I'm more than a little bit happy for her. Of course, one could argue she may have gone a bit overboard, but I understand where she comes from.
At the center of this film is a terrific performance from Sissy Spacek as Carrie White. It's very obvious to see why she was nominated for an Oscar as she gives the role everything she's got. Her mannerisms of a frightened, cowering child who through the course of a scene somehow manages to unfold and stand as the perfect metaphor for the life changes Carrie is undergoing. Not only is she becoming a woman, she's also becoming something far more powerful and potentially deadly because she doesn't yet have a full understanding or control of her abilities. Playing just as strongly is an Oscar-nominated turn from Piper Laurie as Carrie's mother. Laurie had gone on the record stating that she thought the material was so over the top that the film had to be a comedy. Even if she thought she was being funny, Laurie's a terrifying force to be reckoned with - especially when she starts quoting her own bastardized brand of scripture. But these performances wouldn't be worth much of anything if it hadn't been for Brian De Palma's deft touch behind the camera. De Palma was in his prime here, pulling out all of his artistic split-screen tricks to deliver a film that is genuinely unnerving and gets under your skin.
Truth be told, I actually didn't like this film the first times I saw it, and that is in large part due to how it was haphazardly edited for television. I've mentioned in some of my previous reviews about a particular local station out of Detroit that would air recent horror films edited down for content. It's because of this station that I got to see and enjoy any number of bloody and horrific films at a very young age and Brian De Palma's adaptation of 'Carrie' was a frequent feature. Part of the reason I didn't like it was that I until I rented the tape years later in high school, the film was so heavily edited for content during that opening scene and through other key moments that most of the movie made no sense as a result. It moved from the girls playing volleyball directly to Carrie sitting outside the principal's office. There wasn't any context for what was going on with Carrie, the physical and metaphorical changes, or it's relationship to her rampant bullying. But once I saw it in all of its uncensored glory, I finally understood the movie. I understood the weight and themes. I was actually able to connect with it on a personal level. I like to revisit 'Carrie' every couple years. My experiences with the film have grown and altered as I got older and could appreciate it. Once I finally got around to reading the book I could hold it as a near-perfect adaptation. It may not be a perfect photocopy adaptation of the book, but it captures the heart and soul of the novel. I'm also thankful to see that forty years and a couple remakes later this film still holds up remarkably well. It's still a visceral and relatable experience and one I look forward to checking in on again in a couple years.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Carrie' arrives on Blu-ray in a 40th Anniversary 2-Disc Collector's Edition release from Scream Factory. The film is pressed onto a Region A locked BD50 disc with extra features occupying the second disc. The discs are housed in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray case with an identical slip cover and reversible artwork. An extra special edition release was available to those who pre-ordered directly through Shout Factory where you could get a second slipcover and poster of the alternate artwork similar to their release for 'Return of the Living Dead.' Both discs load directly to their respective animated main menus and feature traditional navigation options.
Going into this new 40th-anniversary release of 'Carrie' I didn't have a lot of hope for the transfer. Even with a fresh 4K scan, I just never thought the appearance of the film would ever be drastically improved. Apparently, that 4K scan went a long way! While the film still has the dream-like contrast blooms and some softness, this new scan is a vast improvement over any previous home video format. For starters, fans of the film will notice a far more stable grain field. My first worry was that it was scrubbed clean with some DNR, but closer inspection shows that the grain is alive and well, just far more subtle. Detail levels are also given an impressive boost allowing hair, makeup, and some impressive prom dresses to show their finer points. It also appears that the previous transfer's use of edge enhancement hasn't been replicated as there aren't any notable instances of banding, haloing, or other compression artifacts. Colors are also timed a bit better now, reds appear a true red without the orange-pink tinge the previous release had. Primaries are natural with plenty of pop and flesh tones have a nice healthy look to them. Black levels can still be a bit crushed here and there, but when it counts most there is an improved sense of depth to the image. Brightness also looks like it has also been pulled back allowing for some deeper blacks and more natural color saturation. Damage appears to have also been cleaned up a bit, there are a few moments of speckling and some very fine scratches that have always been apparent in virtually every previous release, but now they're not nearly as intrusive or distracting. Some may find a few things to nitpick about this presentation, but in all honesty the benefits of this new scan should outweigh any perceived negatives. This is honestly the best I've ever seen this film in any home video format, it may not seem like much of a difference from the screen captures, but it's very noticeable in motion.
'Carrie' arrives at the party with a solid DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix as well as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix. Either one you choose will get the job done. The 5.1 mix is an improvement over the previous Blu-ray release's 5.1 track, but may seem a bit soft and subtle during the film's quieter moments as there isn't really a lot of natural surround activity. But when Carrie becomes aware of her powers and starts to test them, the LFE picks up nicely and the surrounds start to make their presence known. The big climax is a perfect balance of screams, sound effects, and scoring. The 2.0 mix showcases a lot of these benefits but is a bit more front loaded. While this may make up for some of the softer dialogue moments, it does tend to squeeze the sense of imaging. Levels for both tracks are pretty good, but during the quieter moments, I did feel like I had to tap the volume every now and again when an actor was speaking softly. No age-related hiss or pop to report for either track. If I had to choose a track, I would put the 2.0 slightly higher than the 5.1 mix, but only slightly. Both have their benefits and should please fans.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:06)
Franchise Trailer Gallery: (HD 4:12)
- Writing Carrie: (HD 29:07) This is a fascinating and interesting interview with screenwriter Lawrence Cohen. He covers a lot of ground here from receiving the initial manuscript from a new unknown writer named Stephen King. It's interesting to hear his reaction to the book but then also his approach to adapting it for the screen.
- Shooting Carrie: (HD 15:22) An interview with Director of Photography Mario Tosi, this is a great interview, a little difficult to understand in places because of his limitations with English but he offers a lot of insight into the dream-like qualities of the visuals and De Palma's approach to the film.
- Cutting Carrie: (HD 25:09) Editor Paul Hirsch offers up a lot of terrific details about how the film came together in the editing room, finding the tone, pace, as well as cutting together the climax of the movie.
- Casting Carrie: (HD 16:03) Casting director Harriet B. Helberg talks about what it took to get the film cast and finding Sissy Spacek for the lead.
- More Acting Carrie: (HD 20:19) This is comprised of new, but sadly short interviews with Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Edie McClurg, and P.J. Soles. While this is sadly short, it's fascinating. The best tidbit of note is George Lucas was casting 'Star Wars' and De Palma was casting 'Carrie' at the same time in the same room! So both films could have been completely different depending on what actor impressed either George or Brian at any given moment!
- Bucket of Blood: (HD 23:53) This is a very interesting interview with composer Pino Donaggio. He discusses his approach with De Palma, how they keyed in on that dreamy flute theme, as well as the four string progression that seems almost lifted from Hitchcock's 'Psycho.'
New Horror's Hallowed Grounds: (HD 11:25) Fans of Sean Clark's little segments will get a kick out of this. It's always cool to see familiar locations from movies and it's cool seeing that a lot of these places are still around.
Acting Carrie: (SD 42:42) This is a collection of archival interviews from the previous Special Edition DVD as the principal cast and De Palma talk about the film being their first major job.
Visualizing Carrie: (SD 41:33) This is an archival making of feature from the previous Special Edition DVD with interviews from Brian De Palma and other crew.
Carrie The Musical: (SD 6:23) This is a very brief collection of interviews about the attempt to turn the film into a musical.
Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie Text Gallery: (HD) This is a text history about the genesis of the novel and where King drew his ideas from controlled with the chapter advance buttons.
Still Gallery - Rare Behind-The-Scenes: (HD 4:54)
Still Gallery - Posters and Lobby Cards: (HD 3:56)
TV Spots: (HD & SD 3:11) A collection of five different brief TV trailers for the film.
Radio Spots: (1:29) I miss how they used to advertise movies this way.
'Carrie' is a classic horror film, plain and simple. It was conceived by a master storyteller and then adapted by a skilled visual filmmaker with an incredible performance by Sissy Spacek and a chilling turn by Piper Laurie. Add all of those pieces together and 'Carrie' becomes one of the best horror films of the 1970s. Scream Factory has given this film the due Collector's Edition treatment it's long deserved. On top of a beautiful new image transfer and an effective audio track to match, fans are given a massive amount of new and archival bonus features to sift through. Fans absolutely should make a date with this release of 'Carrie,' just leave the pig's blood at home. Highly recommended.